Case Study: Redesigning Commit for iOS 7
To get your own copy of Commit for $2.99 on the App Store.
A few years ago I designed an iPhone app called Commit. This little app has made me more money (indirectly) than just about anything else I’ve done. It’s not the app sales (those have totaled about $10k in two years), but instead the habit that Commit has helped me form.
Commit is a habit building app based on Jerry Seinfield’s productivity method. The idea is that if you want to get good at something (like writing jokes) you should do it every day. Keep track of your days in a row to build up a chain, then part of your motivation to complete the task today is to not break your chain of days in a row.
This technique works. I started writing 1,000 words a day in March 2012, by July I had a small streak going that I’ve maintained for over 400 days. You can read more about the process and the massive benefits here.
The point of all that is that Commit was long overdue for a redesign. Let’s jump in to my process.
Note: at the end of this post I have a really exciting announcement. Read the whole thing, then sign up for the form.
The current design
The current design uses a page view controller like the weather app built in with iOS. This means that you can add multiple commitments and swiping side to side moves between each commitment. Here are a few screenshots:
The first goal was to redesign the app to make it visually match iOS 7, so I started researching other app designs. Since iOS 7 wasn’t out yet, that meant looking at a work in progress designs on Dribbble. You can see the bucket I created for inspiring designs here.
I also spent a lot of time looking at the design pages on Apple’s iOS 7 site. They included screenshots of every app, so I paid close attention to each of the details.
What I saw was a whole lot of white. There’s nothing wrong with that, but nothing inspired me to design Commit to match.
It wasn’t until I installed the iOS 7 beta on my phone and saw this screen that I found a beautifully designed screen I wanted to emulate. The active call screen is really well designed. It’s flat, but not boring. I like the thin lines, high contrast, and subtle background. The first time I saw it I thought, “wow, that’s good design” and took this screenshot:
Then it was time to turn to Photoshop to start designing. I downloaded the iOS 7 Photoshop template from Teehan + Lax and got started. My first attempt didn’t turn out very well.
That direction wasn’t working so I scrapped it. Though whenever I start designing down one path I am hesitant to try an entirely new direction out of fear of losing my current work. My solution is to save a new file so that I can always refer back to the current state. So Commit.psd becomes Commit2.psd and I keep designing without worrying about losing my past work when trying something completely new.
My next attempt was to match the call screen even more closely. I created a subtle background by taking a stock photo, desaturating it, and blurring it heavily. Then overlaying it on a colored background with some noise and a slight gradient.
Next I wanted to try to match the default color schemes in iOS 7, so I used the same button color from the end call button combined with some of the other elements from the original version of Commit.
That was starting to turn into something that would work, but with a couple problems. First, the red button made it look too much like a destructive action. Which is not ideal since it is the main button you interact with. Second, the marks for each day at the bottom didn’t seem to match. And I still had the shadow/highlight beveled lines which aren’t really seen in iOS 7.
I wanted to come up with a new way of displaying your chain across the bottom and even turned to pen and paper to come up with something completely new, but without any good results.
I posted what I had on Dribbble to get some feedback. The feedback was really great, but I especially appreciated Marco Moreno designing a better method for doing the chain. His is really simple, but for some reason I couldn’t think of it when I was stuck.
I also switched to a green button since it seemed more encouraging and reworked the icons. Here’s the third iteration:
This ended up being the final version of that screen. Another change I made was to move the secondary buttons down so they align with the bottom of the “Yes” button. I just think it looks more interesting.
I also realized I needed to change the details view for each commitment. First that meant the delete button needed to be replaced with a settings icon. In the old design the commitment card flipped over to show a few options. Since I ditched the card layout, that no longer made sense.
My solution was to move the two settings buttons into a slide out drawer. It’s simple, but I think it works well:
Designing other screens
Next I needed to design the add commitment screen. The way the Commit is setup this is actually the first screen seen when the app launches. With the rest of the visual style in place this screen went really quickly. I took the same old interface and made it match the new style:
Even for the first version of Commit I really struggled with the app icon. Finding a metaphor for checking off a commitment always had me coming back to a checkmark—just like every other app on the App Store. Seriously, this group is a little crowded:
I really struggled to think of something better.
A good icon usually features the most prominent idea or feature of the application. Ignoring the idea of checking off a commitment for the day, the orange button (in the previous design) was the most prominent. I found it exciting to be able to hit that button once per day, it showed I had accomplished the most important task of the day.
That worked, but I really don’t think putting the app name on the icon itself is a good idea. I did it then because I was trying so hard to avoid a checkmark… whether right or not.
The new design
There are two design tasks I really dislike: designing logos and designing icons. But whatever you think of the old icon, it doesn’t match the new design, meaning I needed to start this difficult task over again.
This time the prominent idea I wanted to focus on was list of days in a row that you completed the commitment. To me that really is the most important part of the application.
Since that often has gaps in it I thought I could represent a checkmark (see, I’m back to that idea again!) in the negative space. Here are a few attempts to accomplish that.
You know what that is? Taking a bad idea and trying to turn it into something decent. A few of those are truly awful, but I needed to give the idea enough time to see if it could work (it can’t).
One part of the app I am really happy with is how the rounded corner rectangles look for representing the days (Thanks Marco!). Taking that idea I shrunk them down into little dots and tried to make a checkmark out of that. Here’s that version:
I actually liked that! …Even though it is a check mark it had some character. In a final attempt to bring it closer to the core idea of Commit, I shaded out some circles to represent missed days in the broken chain. The result is the final icon that I decided to go with:
Here’s the icon in it’s native environment thanks to Michael Flarup’s App Icon Template:
Yes, I settled on a checkmark—just like every other app—but I feel it captures the ideas that makes Commit unique. And besides, this icon is green, not blue like all the competition. ;)
At the beginning of this post I promised an announcement, so here it is:
I’m releasing the iOS 7 edition of The App Design Handbook on November 6th! At lot has changed in iOS design over the last year since the 1st edition was digitally published, so it’s time for an update. The book will also include brand new video tutorials and interviews with leading designers in the iOS community.
Introducing my co-author
Even more exciting than the new edition is who I am working on it with. After having written three books on my own I wanted to see how much better of a product I could make by working with someone else.
Jeremy is an excellent writer and an even better designer. That’s a rare combination and I’m thrilled to be working with him on this new project!
Update: the book is now available! Get your copy here: The App Design Handbook.