Meet Briefs: A New Design Collaboration Tool To Power Mobile App Innovation

One of the big problems in today's technology landscape is the lack of solid tools to help designers create better software. Now that Apple has seen fit to update the iPhone's look and feel with iOS 7, it’s even more critical for app developers to be able to redesign their software to adhere to Apple’s new transition guide.

(See also Why Aren't There More/Better Software Design Tools?)

A Brief Solution

Fortunately, new solutions are coming online. In the works since 2009 but finally available only recently, is the Mac application Briefs, which lets designers create iPhone apps and share their designs via a free iOS viewer app.

Creator Rob Rhyne tells me that there are two ways to design with Brief:

One way would be to composite your design in Briefs. You can use Adobe Photoshop or OmniGraffle to design your look and feel and then import graphics into Briefs to create animated interactions. Or you can use Briefs’ built-in library of interface elements (see video below).

Briefs uses a Macromedia Director-like design language that relies on actors, hot spots and timelines to help you craft your user experience, which is dubbed a “brief.” A brief is broken up into timelines of scenes. Each scene is a state of a screen, so, for example, an error state is a different state of the same screen.

While a lot of prototyping tools are designed to create quick mockups, Rhyne says Briefs focuses on the details of inter-scene animations. Once you create a brief, you can share it via e-mail.

Sharing Briefs

Sharing and collaborating on prototypes is where Briefs gets truly innovative. A free iOS viewer app lets you test your brief on a target device. It's also a nifty way to distribute design prototypes.

Rhyne tells me that the next iteration will have more gestural support -- an increasingly important aspect of the iOS user experience, particularly in the context of iOS 7.

Veteran app designers will tell you that testing is one of the most difficult things about designing on one device, the Mac in this case, while delivering on another -- the iPhone.

Designers can use Briefs’ blueprint view to let the developer team know how long each user animation runs and what state each button is in, making designing apps more fluid. And that fluidity should lead to better applications, which is something we can all look forward to.