The Most Important Design Principles in Design for the Apple Watch

Since its initial release date in April 2015, Apple’s Watch has continued to cause waves of excitement and interest with the launch of each new seri…

apple watch

Since its initial release date in April 2015, Apple’s Watch has continued to cause waves of excitement and interest with the launch of each new series. With the latest offering (Series 3) launching in the last couple of months, the attention of Apple fans and tech-heads has yet again been piqued.

The smartwatch market hit a record 21.1 million sales by the end of 2016, with Apple models pulling ahead of Samsung and Chinese brands. The overall global market for Smartwatches is predicted to hit over 110 million units by 2020. From topping TechRadar’s best smartwatch of 2017 through to an Apple Watch notification saving a man’s life, the successes of Apple Watch are boundless.

As a result, there has been a rise in demand for web designers and developers who are Apple Watch ready. With this in mind, let’s look at the most important design principles and guidelines in designing for the Apple watch.

Familiarise yourself with the guidelines

Developers looking to create apps that are perfectly compatible with the Apple Watch, it’s important to become familiar with the Apple Watch design guidelines, created specifically to prevent designers and developers from running into serious problems throughout the process.

Aaron Humphreys, Head of UX at Boiled Egg Timer creators Tappable, explains, “You must be mindful Apple Watch offers three distinct functions. There’s an independent app, typically an extension of an iPhone app. Then there’s a glance, which offers a quick snippet of information. Finally, there are notifications, for something that requires more immediate attention.”

Thanks to Apple’s diligence, the tech company have a helpful set of documents, accessible via the developer resources. Here designers will discover how to create beautiful, functional apps.

Human Interface Guidelines

Designing a WatchOS app requires an understanding of the foundations on which the Apple Watch was designed. These can be distilled into the following three primary design themes:

Glanceable – Glanceable apps make the most important information readily available to the user. Being glanceable also means that information is easily accessed by the user directly from the watch face.

Actionable – Actionable apps anticipate the user’s needs by making sure that what is on the screen is always relevant. Custom notification interfaces incorporate actions to manage common tasks without opening the app.

Responsive – A responsive app minimises launching and load time of new screens. User’s interactions ate responded to with instant feedback on what the app is doing, and then utilises notifications to deliver updates later.

Keep in mind Apple Watch dimensions

The Apple Watch comes in two sizes, 38mm and 42mm sizes, and as a result, when designing apps for use on Apple Watch, it’s essential to keep this in mind throughout the design process, so that the same content is displayed correctly, regardless of the size.

Use relative sizing and Dynamic Type to ensure items expand or contract naturally to fill the free space. Apple advise using one image resource file suitable for both display sizes.


As a designer or developer, being mindful of the Apple Watch’s navigation system is key to a successful and well-performing app. Apple Watch is vastly different to other devices on offer from the tech giant in the WatchKit.

Fundamentally, app developers have the choice of two navigation types: 1. Tapping on the screen to access the next page. 2. Swiping the screen to access the next page.

Traditionally, iOS lets users switch between the two navigation types, but with the Apple Watch, the WatchKit navigation system allows just one of these options to be used at a time. This limits developers, but encourages them to create a more stripped back navigation system for apps and to be more mindful in their designs.

With the industry along with the public taking note of the importance of great Apple Watch app design and the designers and developers who make it happen, there has never been a better time to explore opportunities or expand on your skillsets of app design.

Discover your next venture on the Cogs job board.

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