Top Gear on Windows 8 - Zero to Store in 6 weeks, Part 2: the visual design

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Gareth Ingram, Head of Creative at Splendid, talked inspiration, visuals and the decision making that come with designing an app for one of the most popular brands in the UK.

What does design mean to you?

First and foremost, it's a combination of idea generation, problem solving and figuring out how to engage your audience. Beyond that, it's a love of the old-school craft (type has to be well-set, grids obsessed over), but combined with an ever-evolving interest in new ideas and opportunities for using those time-honoured techniques.

How did you come up with the idea for the Top Gear News app Windows 8 design? What was your inspiration?

The Top Gear magazine and site content, magazine designs in general (both on and off-line), and (obviously) the very visible look of Modern UI. We also wanted to reference games interface design, and the brand identities of premium car brands.

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What were the objectives of the design?

To achieve a modern expression of the Top Gear brand, combined with an exciting reading experience - we wanted to create a bridge between the very popular printed magazine and the online world of the website. There were also some practical issues, such as being capable of consuming the JSON content feeds without any back-end development or overly onerous front-end display logic.

What was the process you used to get to the final design?

As it was quite a quick turnaround, the process of arriving at the design language was certainly very swift, and involved rapid, iterative designs to get as close to what we intuitively felt to be the right answer without an overbearing development process. This was combined with a tight working relationship with the UX and development team to ensure the designs were both what the audience needed and also technically deliverable.

How does the design link the various Top Gear content that exist like the website, videos and galleries?

The design language is very much an extension of the magazine design, as it's the clearest expression of the brand and something that has obvious usage similarities with the app and its content. The magazine design also has the closest parallels with MUI, which definitely had an influence upon our chosen direction.

What does the design team look like and how do you pull together with the UX and dev teams to pull an app together so quickly?

"Design" at Splendid is very much seen as thought process shared by Visual designers, User Experience designers and Developers, with ideas bouncing back and forth constantly, and that approach was never truer than during the rapid development of the Top Gear app. The visual designs and UX were iterated in parallel, with constant validation and new ideas thrown in from the Dev team. For instance, hi-fidelity artwork was handed back to the UX team to incorporate into the Axure prototype for concept validation and client sign-off, and similarly the UX and visual design specification was retrospectively iterated as new challenges and opportunities presented themselves during the app's technical development.

What reaction have you had so far from Top Gear fans?

Vociferous, to say the least... Top Gear fans are pretty tech savvy and can be quite possessive of the brand!

What was it like working with Windows 8 compared with other platforms (good and bad)? Were there any apps in store that you used as inspiration?

A desire to balance the 'Win8-ness' of the OS (look and feel, as well as interface elements) whilst still allowing the TG brand to shine through. Given how new Win8 is, we actually had the luxury not being unduly influenced by many similar apps, so we were able to define what we thought a motoring magazine experience could feel like. The one uncertain element about currently designing for Win8 is degree to which the UI can flex and still be engaged with by the user base - as number and variety of Win8 apps matures the interaction vocabulary will become better established and more widely understood.

What design features help make the Top Gear app stand out?

Really amazing rich content, including some stunning photography from the magazine and video from one of the most watched TV shows in the world (providing you like cars!).

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How do you think the Windows Design Guidelines have influenced the way you think about app design?

They've reinforced our belief that any app (or service) should have a very clear purpose in mind from the moment 'design' starts ('What is your app the best at'). Further more, supporting widely understood OS-wide interaction paradigms and mental models where appropriate, whilst also allowing the third-party brand to come alive. It can't all be about Win8, nor about the brand in question - finding the interesting balance is what it's all about.

What's next for the design?

Lots of interesting features - watch this space.

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