«Details Make the Experience» – Interview with Frank Rausch
Of all the designers I’ve encountered throughout my career, Frank is probably the most detail-focussed. He designs and codes apps, teaches in design schools all over Europe and complains about people using x instead of × for a close button icon. His actual title is “User Interface Typographer” – a perfect description of what he does.
I first encountered Frank’s work when I leanred about Partly Cloudy, a super-nerdy weather app. The last two years, Frank was working on “V for Wiki” – probably the coolest Wikipedia Reader out there. The app not only has a 5 star rating on the App Store, it also won 2 big design awards and was in the selection of “Best Apps 2016”. How does one get there?
To find out, I needed to speak to Frank. I met him in a café on a busy street in West Berlin, just down the road from David Bowie’s old Berlin apartment. We spoke about details, typographic obsessions and why he doesn’t get inspired by Dribbble.
Question: Frank, you made an app called “V for Wiki”. Can you tell me a bit about how you made, why made it and what the special thing about it?
Frank: A couple of years ago, I thought that the ways of reading Wikipedia don’t really do justice to the great content. There was the website, which was kind of dull and hasn’t changed since 2004, there are a couple of first and third party app, which also don’t put the stress on typography. With my agency, we made a Wikipedia Reader app, which was fairly successful, but only as a sideproject.
I decided it would be better to start from scratch and make a great new Wikipedia reader app. Two years ago I decided to go for it. Start from scratch. Build the Wikipedia reader app of my dreams that would work on all iOS devices, including the Apple Watch.
Start with the reading experience – the most important thing when you make a reading app.
Q: What makes V for Wiki different from other Wikipedia reader apps is the attention to detail that went into the design of the app. Can you tell us a bit about how you went it and what your favourite detail is?
A: I started with the typography. Many other apps would start with wireframes and the main screenflow, but I started with the article view and deciding on typefaces. Balancing all the typographic aspects like text size, line height, spacing, all the stuff that makes a great reading experience – that’s definitely my favourite. That’s also what differentiates it from other apps: I started with the reading experience – the most important thing when you make a reading app.
Q: Where does this obsession with typography come from? Do you have a background in type design?
A: Yes, I do! I studied user interface design in Potsdam – there was a lot of graphic design, with illustration, type design and typography combined. I was lucky to have obsessive type design teachers like Lucas de Groot. I think I took the class 5 times in my education. Type design is a pretty good foundation for graphic design in general. You learn about contrast, you learn about curve quality, balancing shapes. Type design is the best foundation for any kind of design. Text is everywhere – it is the basic material for most of the stuff we do every day as designers.
It’s not possible to make a great user experience without obsessing about the details.
Q: Let’s talk about details. You spent a lot of time making “V for Wikipedia” and a lot of work, a lot of effort came into that. Why was it so important for you to look into the little things? Have you been in a situation where you struggled with a feature or found yourself in a dead end?
A: Details make the experience. They are important. Like Charles Eames said: «The details are not the details, they make the product.» I think it’s not possible to make a great user experience without obsessing about the details. Also, it’s obvious when you use an app that takes a minimal viable approach and just hammers out the details quickly, it makes a huge difference how you proceed the app and how often you want to use it. The great retention rate I have and the number of sessions actually comes from the attention to details. The way of keeping people engaged and having people to get used to a certain app cause it does things in a certain way.
Q: Where do you get your inspiration from?
A: Not Dribbble for sure. (laughs) I think everything you look at, everything you’ve seen in your life inspires you. You always imitate stuff, so it’s impossible not to be inspired based on things.
Of course I look at current design trends of user interface design, but the foundation of everything I do digitally is always platform-specific. On iOS I look at how it’s done on iOS and then I add on top of it. Inspiration is always there, but it’s nothing you can do conciously, like “Now I want to get inspired, Now I want to get inspired on Dribble to come up with a great product”. It doesn’t work that way. You suck up inspiration, and then later when you need it, it’s there. That is how it works for me at least.
Never be happy with anything you do. When you’re lucky, your work will get better.
Q: Any recommendations for young and aspiring designers you would like to share?
A: It’s always important to reflect on your own work. Never be happy with anything you do. It can be very frustrating, that is totally fine. That will keep you moving forward, it will keep you going. At some point, when you’re lucky, your work gets better. Always be critical of your own stuff, observe how others are doing it, observe how you did something yourself that you weren’t happy with and why. That’s how you get better.
Q: Frank, if you wouldn’t be a designer, what would you rather do?
A: I’m pretty happy with what I do. (laughs) I have no idea. I think it wouldn’t be possible for me to do something that is not creative. I’m not talking about graphic-design-creative – a hairstylist can be creative, an engineer can be creative, being an engineer in some way is very closely related to being a designer in the way you approach problems and solve problems and invent stuff. Probably engineering would be a great choice in some way.
Q: Thank you so much, Frank!
Frank’s Photo: © Norman Posselt