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How to win an Apple Design Award

Klemens Strasser won an Apple Design Award with his first major project, despite having absolutely no design training. Easy, huh?!

While the Affinity team were at WWDC 2015 being presented with an Apple Design Award for Affinity Designer, Austrian teenager Klemens Strasser was also among the winners, for the quiz game Elementary Minute—his first serious development project.

Since then, Klemens has become a real Affinity Designer devotee. We asked him to share his story—and his most valuable tips for successful game design.

Although I enjoyed a rather broad education in electrical engineering and computer science, I never learned anything about design in school.

It was only when I started to teach myself how to make apps for iOS that I realized how important it is to have this skill.

For the first version of my very first game, Elementary Minute, I did everything in code. To compare different designs, I made a screenshot of the app running in the simulator, change the code, run it again and then put the two screenshots side by side in a word processor for comparison.

Iterating was a pain. Around the launch of my game, I stumbled upon Affinity Designer and it changed my workflow forever.

It helped me to refine Elementary Minute for the iPhone in every single way, was essential in the creation of Elementary Minute for the Apple Watch and thus, helped me to get an Apple Design Award (Student Category) for this little game.

Elementary Minute promotional video

Nowadays, I use Affinity Designer in every step of the app creation. Every icon, every screen, every character and every logo you see in my apps was sketched up and refined with this wonderful app.

I learned a ton of things over the last three years and I wanted to share some advice about graphical game design with you. Keep in mind that this list is not definitive. There is more to making a successful game than following a simple set of rules.

Things like timing, marketing and a giant dose of luck always play a big role. But there are certain things you can avoid doing wrong, and that’s what this list is for.

1 Don’t be afraid

If you start making a game and have never worked with a vector drawing program like Affinity Designer, it feels kinda intimidating. But don’t shy away. A great game doesn’t require a complex graphics style (see Thomas Was Alone). The best thing for you is to get started and practice. A lot.

Affinity has created a huge catalogue of amazing tutorials to help you.

The many faces of Asymmetric, Klemens’ Strasser’s puzzle game

2 Make your characters memorable

It has never been easier to make a game, and thus, it has never been harder to stick out of the masses. A good way of achieving that is through memorable characters.

It often only takes little details, funny idle animations or goofy eyes to make your character stick. The game Threes by Sirvo is a great example that even simple puzzle games can benefit a lot from that.

3 Animate!

I can’t stress enough what a huge difference a few simple animations can make for a game. Through animation, something that feels stiff and lifeless can be transformed into something that puts a smile on your face. This is not only true in the game itself, but also for all of the game menus.

If you’ve never ever done anything with animations, I can strongly recommend watching the YouTube series on the Twelve Basic Principles Of Animation by Alan Becker.

When you are ready to get your hands dirty, treat yourself with an animations program like Spine and couple it with Affinity Designer’s continuous exporting. This makes for an awesome workflow to play around with animations.

4 Colour

Like in every other medium, colours can be used in games to set the tone of a scene and transport emotions. But colours can also help you to draw attention to certain parts in your game and explain their function.

In boss fights for example, orange glowing parts often indicate where the boss is vulnerable. Or if you’re making a puzzle, giving all elements you can interact with the same colour can lower the frustration of solving the puzzle. So use colour wisely.

5 Design for everyone

Accessibility is often overlooked in game design. But it only a little effort to open up your game to a broad number of disabled players.

If your game is reliant on colours, make sure that the colours are distinguishable for colourblind people. You can do this by changing colours or just adding symbols inside the different coloured elements help to keep them apart.

You should also check contrast levels of texts and other screen elements, maybe even add a high contrast (see right) or dark mode for people with low vision.

For more info on that topic, check out the Game Accessibility Guidelines.

6 App icon is key!

(Oh, and screenshots are pretty important too…)

If you are designing for mobile platforms, the App Icon is one of the most crucial things to consider. Yes, you still need a good, and good-looking, game to succeed, but people will often not even look at your game if the App Icon doesn’t look appealing.

If you have an appealing icon, keep in mind that most people don’t read the description. So you might want to add some sort of description on your screenshots if they are not self-explanatory.

Below are some designs from my latest game Subwords. It’s an exciting mix between a trivia and a word game, where words are split into syllables and you have to put them back together as fast as possible. The words in every level are bound to a certain topic, so you have to know about the topic to solve it. But it’s no problem if you aren’t that familiar with a specific topic, you can simply click the bulb to learn something new!

App icons and screenshots

7 Get some feedback

When you work on the game alone or in a small team, you will get so familiar with every tiny detail of it that it gets hard to judge certain aspects of the game. Does the player know which elements are intractable? Is the menu self-explanatory? Is this mechanic too hard?

Questions like these can only be answered through testing. In my opinion, the best source to get such feedback are conferences and game festivals. These events give you a possibility to watch players that know next to nothing about the game interact with it. It’s the best way to learn what works and what doesn’t.

If you can’t go to conferences, you can still get great feedback by inviting strangers to a beta test. And the least thing you can do is to show your game off on social media, with hashtags like #madeinaffinity #screenshotsaturday #indiedev #gamedev.

8 Play. A lot.

If you want to make a good game, you should get a feeling for what makes a good game. The best way to get that feeling is through playing games! So do that!

Elementary Minute is available on iPad, iPhone and Apple Watch

For mobile games, Apple Design Award winners and Apple’s Game of the Day or Game of the Year picks are a great starting point to find well-crafted games in the App Store.

But don’t limit yourself to the great games. Also, try some stuff that doesn’t look appealing and analyze what could have been done better. Learn from what has come before instead of reinventing the wheel.

PR manager

John heads up our public relations and is co-editor of Affinity Spotlight, as well as being responsible for a lot of what we post on our Facebook page and Twitter feed. When he’s not trying to charm journalists into giving us more great media coverage, or serving as butler to an elderly cat, his interests include music, Cuban cigars and American whiskey. Get in touch with John if you would like to contribute to Affinity Spotlight or have any press enquiries.