Feedback jam: app design, editorial design and the user

Once again, Baseline shift provided students with the valuable opportunity to get feedback on any project in week 9 of this term, both from our tutors – Gerry Leonidas and James Lloyd – and some Part 3s. What follows is a summary of the main conversations which took place, and the key takeaways that should prove useful to any student on any project.

To begin, one Part 2 student shared their restaurant booking app design, with the view that it simply didn’t look quite right. On the surface it looked like an app, and James stated that it was a good start. However, Gerry made the point that it appeared difficult to navigate, as there was an imbalance between the images and the type such that the images were taking over. Headings are used to navigate in the first instance, and therefore you should always ensure their prominence and scale. This is important in app design but equally in all aspects of design too. If your text isn’t readable, for example because the contrast between your typeface and your background is not sufficient, then it will potentially frustrate users and cause accessibility issues. Avoiding such issues will make for a better user experience, and result in a more inclusive design.

The Part 2’s restaurant booking app homepage.

Helvetica was the typeface of choice for the app. As the tutor of our MA Typeface Design course, Gerry was keen to point out that Helvetica was not originally designed for small scale use, and that as a consequence, when set at small scale, the characters appear tightly packed together. Remember to consider this with any typeface: you can track lowercase letters in this situation if you really need to – even though this is not something we would normally do in print. Gerry recommended that the student should look at alternative typefaces with more ‘open proportions’ like Apple’s San Francisco. But he would also encourage students to explore typefaces with more personality. Helvetica is overused and if you use it, your design – in this context your app – may end up looking too similar to others. Check out Google Fonts.

A proposed onboarding screen from the app.

James brought up the notion of user journey in relation to the app. Some of the onboarding screens shown by the Part 2 student seemed to restrict the users with a limiting number of options or actions. This begins to imply that every user requires pretty much the same thing. With no option to get straight to the functionality of your app, some users could feel reluctant to use it. Not everyone will have the patience to work their way through multiple consecutive screens, or always be in the mood to do so. And James suggested that requiring users to ‘sign up’ immediately once they open your app is perhaps not preferable, as it may deter people away from using it.

Another Part 2 student shared their illustrative book cover design for the children’s book ‘A Story Like the Wind’. Students in the room commented that they liked the texture of the design. Gerry picked up on the possibility for the typography to better mimic the illustration of the waves, suggesting that the letters could rock. Broadly, unifying and aligning the setting and treatment of your type and image will help your design to appear cohesive and will make its overall message more clear and convincing.

The Part 2’s book cover design.

In addition, Gerry stressed the importance of comparing the characters within the title; having been somewhat distorted from the original typeface, and manually constructed, he considered some to be more fluid and free from structure than others. If you manipulate typography, be sure to consider how you do so, and whether it appears coherent in style. However, perhaps you might intentionally want it to lack coherency.

‘It needs to be more uniformly inconsistent.’ – Gerry

The design, despite its character and sense of motion, lacked a great sense of depth according to James. He suggested that the scene could be lit differently, or the collage photographed differently in different lighting in order to achieve ‘more drama and presence’. Consider how you can use more subtle indicators such as light in your work, in order to draw attention to or from certain locations. Gerry also commented on the use of straight black for the silhouettes of the people, stating that as this was a design that would be printed in colour, that making use of a rich black, infused with colour, or a deep shade of blue might be preferable.

‘Just the black from the CMYK set is quite flat. Try adding some C, M and Y to give more depth’ – Gerry

Part 1s were currently tasked with setting the same text in two contrasting styles: traditional and modern. One Part 1 shared their work for feedback. Gerry and James agreed that the modern design could be made more drastically ‘modern’, pushing both designs further apart from each other in style. This is a good reminder to always continue to push yourself in your project work to see if you can one-up yourself.

The Part 1’s ‘modern’ chapter opening spread.

The student considered that the ‘1’ appeared quite awkward and James agreed. He made the point that with such elements like chapter numbers, you have the ability to be a bit more experimental than with the main text as the chapter number is not as much of a necessity. James suggested that it might be made even bigger to the point that is not really read.

‘It just needs to be experienced.’ – James

Remember to think about the pauses that the reader should experience when reading your text. Gerry pointed out that on the page pictured above, the pause between the chapter title and heading was not substantial enough. This could be improved by creating more contrast between the two styles in order to strengthen the hierarchy.

Different kinds of information such as lists can break free from the neat structure of the main text. They can float between paragraphs so that they can easily be distinguished. And, as with spacing on the rest of the page, e.g. between paragraphs and headings, list spacing should spatially group each associated number or bullet with the information that follows it. You want to avoid a list where the numbers appear as a separate column. James also argued that as a designer, it is within our role to make edits to the structure of things like lists if we deem that they could be improved; this may mean changing a list to be labelled ‘a, b, c’, etc. Think about what is best for the reader.

A list surrounded by continuous prose which could be improved with spatial adjustment.

James stated that although you may think that everything on the title page of a book should be in bold as it is important, in reality it doesn’t need to be. The fact that it sits on the title page alone may indicate its importance. Perhaps surprising to some, bold typefaces were a 19th century innovation and are therefore not as ‘traditional’ as might be assumed. Avoiding bold in a design intended to be ‘traditional’ would therefore be logical, but it also acts as a reminder that there are indeed other methods of typographic differentiation that you can utilise to equal effect. Don’t always default to bold.

The ‘traditional’ title page proposed by the Part 1. This is quite shouty due to the application of all caps on every line of type, and because of the prominent use of bold.


From the discussion of app design, book covers and the layout of text, this session highlighted important considerations that we as designers should remember to make. Thinking about the user or the reader remains a common thread in all of these discussions, and it is ultimately part of our primary focus. No matter what you are designing, always think carefully about who you are designing for and what they need. And for all projects, James stressed that there is skill involved in talking about your own work. The key thing is to speak about it actively and positively, suggesting your leadership; avoid saying that you ‘had’ to do something. Ultimately, if you do ‘have’ to do something that you believe isn’t right, then why not try to challenge it.

‘There’s a real art to how you introduce a project and how you pitch it.’ – James

Students’ thoughts

‘It’s interesting and you always learn something. Sometimes you learn more from seeing mistakes others make than you would otherwise; if it was your work you might not spot it until you’ve spotted it elsewhere.’ – Sara, Part 1

‘The feedback from the tutors was very useful. It was great to hear different perspectives on different design aspects of my work. It was also nice to see lovely comments from students in different years which really boosted my confidence in my work.’ – Lamar Kaki, Part 2

‘It is great to have sessions like this. It was interesting to see the work Part 1s have done and it reminds you where you came from and how much you’ve learned.’ – Liselot van Veen, Part 3