How To Design Crisp Interfaces

Interface refers to the design structure of any application or software which facilitates user interaction with the program. The purpose of the interface is to increase the usability and appeal of the app and improve user experience in the process.

For example, in the case of a music or audio player, the skin of the app, the player controls, and the album features together make up the interface of the software.

(Source : Google Images)

How the play, pause, stop and shuffle buttons look, how well it can display the album art, whether it minimizes tactfully or not – everything adds to a better user interface.

In short, the aspect of a program that the user interacts with while using the app is an interface. Now, why does it need to be crisp? Because that is what the users like.

Big bulky and complex designs are hard to understand and even harder to navigate. It drives away users and fails to retain engagement after the initial trial period.

So, as a designer, it is important for you to learn how to make sharp, contemporary, and crisp interfaces. Here is a comprehensive guide for you to create a basic app interface on Adobe Photoshop.

We will stick to our example of an audio player from before.

Steps To Design The Perfect Crisp Interface

Here is your easy guide for designing a crisp interface. The fundamental thing you have to keep in mind is it is all a trick of 1 px shadows, highlights, and strokes.

Step 1: Create And Fill The Shape

Here we will be dealing with a very simple yet crisp design interface for an audio player. So to get the basic shape of your player, select the Rounded Rectangle Tool from the toolbar on the left-hand side and drag and draw the shape on your background.

You can also choose the regular Rectangle Tool, but the rounded edges bring a certain softness to the interface, which is what we are looking for.

The size of the player is flexible and up for you to decide. A 270-300 px width with the corresponding length should do, along with a radius of 5 px.

Next up, fill in the shape you just created with the foundation color you want for the player. Blue is a go-to shade for most people, but you can be experimental and try out shades of pink or green as well.

Once the basic rectangle is done, you would need a circle in the middle for the ‘play’ and ‘pause’ button. It looks nice and aesthetic if you make it a big round button in the middle of the controls – it gives kind of an old school music stereo player vibe.

Go for the Ellipse Tool and create the oval in the middle of the rectangular bar. Since the paths are still live, make sure to hold down on the Shift key when you draw the circle. A 100 px should be enough for the dial.

Suppose you forget to center the circle the first time around, no worries. You can always draw another similar shape in another layer and center them on each other. Remember to fill in with color as well.

Step 2: Gradient Overlay The Design

Go to Layer Styles next to format the design. You can choose Gradient Overlay first, as it adds an excellent shade to the whole panel.

(Source : Google Images)

Choose the range of the color you want to bring in the gradient for. If you want a soft and subtle gradient, a thumb rule to keep in mind is to maintain a minimal range. The further apart your shades are in the spectrum, the sharper your gradient will be.

A smooth and soft transition is what you want here. No user likes to have a bright and blatantly colored control panel staring at them while they listen to music.

Step 3: Add An Inner Shadow

An inner shadow is meant to drop a shadow within the shape from any side of the design’s edge. You can select the contour accordingly, whether you want the inner shadow from up above, down below, right side, or left side.

Set the angle to your liking. If you want the shadow from right above, set it to 90 degrees. Set the Blend Mode to normal and px to 0 for crispness.

But here, you are likely to run into a problem.

As the background is still white, the inner shadow you just dropped will not look like a shadow but more like a blurry haze along the border of the design. That is not desirable. You would want your shadow formatting to pop out.

One way to ensure that is to give your shape a stroke.

Step 4: Give Your Shape A Stroke

The moment you select ‘Stroke,’ you will see that the shadow is being highlighted right where you want it. But you would still need to fine-tune the stroke a bit.

Set the px to 1, opacity at 100%, and choose a color that is just one shade darker than the darkest color on your gradient.

Now come back to ‘Inner Shadow’ for some more fine-tuning. You can change the Blend Mode to Overlay to make the edges softer and bleed out more hues of blue along the border. You can also tone down the opacity and see if it looks better at any angle.

Step 5: Make The Buttons

The central dial for the buttons is now ready, and so is the panel. Next up, you will have to make the buttons.

(Source : Google Images)

In another layer, create a circle with the Ellipse Tool, transform it to a smaller size than the dial, and set it up in the center. Copy and paste the shape in the same layer, transform it, and make the inner wall of the button.

Now it is time to format.

Choose Inner Shadow and Drop Shadow to give the walls of the button a good highlight. That means this time, and the shadows will actually be seen properly.

However, too much sharpness can ruin the design. To make it softer, dial down the opacity all the way to 15-20% and increase the distance to widen the shadow.

To make this shadow pop off the background, you would want to add a Drop Shadow to the other end of the circle, preferably the bottom. This will actually work as a highlighter for the bottom part of the button.

Step 6: Draw The Play Button

With the central dial and button-down, next, you should be making the play/pause sign for it. This is the most commonly used button in an audio player, and so users will love it if the button is big and attractive enough.

To make the process simple, we suggest you use the Rectangle Tool instead of the Pen Tool. Take a smaller radius, between 3 to 5 px.

Draw a small rectangle, or even a square would do. Transform it to turn around 45 degrees and give it a diamond-like shape.

Choosing the right color for this button is crucial. Experiment by clicking on different shades of your base color. Do not go too awry and choose a completely different shade, like red on blue or yellow on the green – it sure looks tacky.

Stick to the color of your panel and your dial. But definitely change up the hue for the extra effort. Preferably, keep the button slightly darker than the other shades.

Now use the Pen Tool to bisect the square shape from the middle and delete the left-side half of it. Now you are left with a tilted triangle, which perfectly resembles the ‘play’ sign on any music player.

Transform the triangle as per your wish – extend it or make it bigger to fit your central dial. Now center the ‘Play’ sign in the middle of the dial. Here you have to keep in mind that centered and visually-centered are two different things.

The sign can be perfectly centered inside the dial, but it might look like it is a bit to the left because of its wider base on the left side and pointier end on the right. So you have to manually nudge the sign to the right a few centimeters and judge by your own eyes if it is centered.

Step 7: More Shadows And Highlights

It’s time for some more formatting. Now that the insides of your panel are more or less done focus on the outside.

Drop a shadow along the bottom edge of the panel. One big mistake that people often make with the Drop Shadow option of Photoshop is they always go with the default set by the software.

Never do that. The default casts a shadow too dark and heavy that it almost looks mishap and somewhat dirty.

So, if you see a 100% opacity and a 5-10 px distance in the Drop Shadow, change it. Reduce the opacity. You do not need a thick black shadow down there. Also, reduce the distance and change up the size if you want.

The end result will be a subtle and classy drop shadow underneath your audio player panel.

Step 8: Add The Icons

Now it is time to add the different icons on the panel. Think about all the icons an audio player panel has – volume, playlist, fast forward, slow forward, replay, and so on.

You can get mini versions of these signs on the internet, or you can use clip art as well. Paste the icons along with the panel in whichever order you prefer. If your panel is smaller, then make space only for the more important ones – volume and playlist, perhaps.

But make sure they are prominent. No need to jam a dozen icons on a small panel just because you have them.

(Source : Google Images)

Change up the color of the icons and match them with the same shade you have been using for this long. But instead of filling it right up with blue or green or pink, you can offset it against white with a slight tint.

For example, if you were using blue, then give the image of the speaker and the soundwaves typically present in the volume icon a bluish white shade.

Next up, format the icons to make them stand out against the panel. Drop Shadow is, once again, the way to go.

Here you need to keep another thing in mind. When the drop shadow is coming down from top to bottom at the 90 degrees angle, it looks like the object is standing out from the background in a slightly embossed manner.

Alternatively, if you turn off the global light and the shadow drops from the bottom edge to the top, it looks like the object is recessed into the background. Which one you will go with is completely up to you.

The same thing is applicable for a light object against a dark background and a dark object against a light background. In the case of the latter, you should go with a highlight instead of a shadow to bring that white light underneath and give the object a recessed look.

Always remember to reduce the opacity of a Drop Shadow.

If you do not find icons on the internet, you can always recreate them by yourself. For example, you can copy the circle from the dial and make a smaller one, drop an Inner Shadow, and make a button for the ‘Next’ button and ‘Previous’ button.

For these, you will have to create double arrows and align them up in the same way you did with the main ‘Play’ button.

You can also keep these principles in mind when you redesign a site, you can treat your website’s layout as an interface to your content.

Finishing Thoughts

As per promise, all we used in this guide are strokes, highlights, and shadows to make a simple yet appealing design.

Now that you have a grasp on making a crisp design for an audio player, you can utilize it for other designs as well.

To challenge yourself, you can try and recreate camera controls or a keypad next.

If you would rather find a service to take care of all of this for you, here’s some information on our graphic design prices and services.

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