The finalists and winner in the mobile category of this year’s Innovation by Design Award don’t share much. But they all exemplify one core idea: Tiny details make the best mobile designs sing, because those tiny details take on outsize importance. For example, Acorns, a finance app, is clever, but its elegant onboarding process helps make it memorable; likewise, Google’s Inbox is an email program with big ideas packed into very simple folders. So congratulations to all, and a special thank you to our esteemed judges: Darcy DiNucci, VP of user experience design at Ammunition; Ricky Engelberg, experience director of digital sport at Nike; and Mark Kawano, Cofounder and CEO of Storehouse. Finally, a sincere thank you to everyone who entered and supported Fast Company’s commitment to elevating the design profession.
(If you’re looking for more inspiring work, don’t forget to check out the finalists in our other categories: Winners, 3D-Printing, City Solutions, Data Viz, Experience, Experimental, Fashion, Graphic Design, Health, Mobile Apps, Product Design, Smart Home, Social Good, Students, Web Design.)
Acorns automatically rounds up transactions on a user’s bank account to the nearest dollar, then invests that spare change into a stock portfolio, recommended based on age, investment goals and risk tolerance. The funds add up quickly and effortlessly, and it’s easy to track progress and project how your money will grow. All that makes the app particularly popular with a group not known for investing: Millennials.
Android Wear is both an elegantly simple take on the smartwatch interface, but also a clean and logical extension of the UI language that Google has rolled out across smartphones and desktops. What makes it easy-to-use is a bedrock of logical relationships that let users easily anticipate how to find any information they’d like.
Creators: Toph Brown, Shaun Tollerton, Tob Siripak, Eduardo Oliveria, Andrew Zellinger, Mitch Todd, Rimar Villasenor, Christoffer Jakobsen, Vasiliy Deych, German Bejarano
The watch faces that UsTwo created for Android Wear feature bold design and data-integration, allowing users to glean calendar or weather information from a quick glance at their wrist.
Do Button, Do Note and Do Camera for Apple Watch let users pick the best features across a variety of apps and make them work seamlessly together. As apps increasingly become tailored to the preferences of users, the Do apps offer a simple model for hooking different services together.
Creators: Chaim Gingold, Cliff Caruthers, Michelle M. Lee, Laura Kaltman
Firm: Levity Lab
There are many interactive science books for iPad which show you how the Earth works. But this one is a cut above, thanks to superb visualizations that let the user directly manipulate variables such as the temperature or geology.
Creators: Chris Connolly, Thomas Dimson, Alex Karpenko
By analyzing smartphone video and cross-referencing that data with the phone’s gyroscope, Hyperlapse is able to create astoundingly steady time-lapse and tracking shots which would otherwise require a $15,000 camera set-up. And it’s all packaged in an elegant, fast interface.
Inbox is Google’s prototype of what email should be, and was the product of close user-research. Instead of asking users to sort through the clutter and chaos of email, filters automatically bundle messages together, in groups such as promotions and trips. Meanwhile, Inbox also easily lets users create to-do lists inside their email—something that many people do, but which few email programs are built upon.
There are countless learning apps out there for toddlers and small children, but Kidaptive takes a slightly different approach. Its puzzles and games collect data on a child’s progress. Then, that data is then used to surface suggested activities that parents can do with their kids away from the app, at just the right time in a child’s development.
LISNR is a novel technology that can push anything—a song, a video, a shopping link, or an ad—to any smartphone, using soundwaves undetectable to the human ear. So instead of having to ask users to download another app, apps that use LISNR technology can automatically download content associated with a specific place, such as a sports stadium or even a TV show.
Google’s new design language is more than aesthetic update. Rather, it’s an entire system of animations, relationships, and UI elements (such as floating action buttons and cards) that serve as a familiar bridge across the many platforms that Google now finds itself on, from cars to phones to TVs.
Creators: Liz Danzico et al
NPR has quietly been aggressive about adapting to a rapidly changing media environment: From their website to their growing web of podcast, the company is finding new ways of meeting users. NPR One is one of their best examples yet: a radio app with curated news and stories from local and national public radio stations.
Firm: Abbott Miller and Pentagram
The Passe-Partout app is an entrancing interactive stage for choreography where users can layer dance sequences to come up with new arrangements.
Firm: MAYA Design
Where previous generations had the Works Progress Administration, we have StoryCorps, a national project for gathering the intimate oral histories of everyday Americans. For many years, that work was done through public booths, but the app vastly expands the project’s reach.
Creators: Antoine Peters
The Tworlds app doesn’t do much, but what it lacks in obvious utility it makes up for in quiet artistry. Using the app, users can pick a theme—say, “sad” or “wow—then take a picture. Immediately, they can see how someone across the world has responded to the same theme. The point? To generate empathy for strangers through the smartphone.