These days, the best way to design apps for multiple screen sizes is to design them for multiple screen sizes. (Sorry for the buzz kill.)
Converting graphics from one aspect ratio to another may save you a dollar or two, but I know of no design shortcuts that truly serve your ultimate goal: steady profitability. So let me offer a few tips for making smart budget decisions and smart design decisions.
1. Never skimp on design. Beautiful apps have a longer shelf-life. I ask my designers to start with the aspect ratio of the newest device first. In Apple’s case, the newest device is currently the iPhone 5/iPod touch. Once you’ve finalized the iPhone 5 layouts, the designer can move on to iPhone 4 and iPod. In September Apple will probably release the iPhone 6 with a 4.7” screen, so the plot thickens.
2. Do some research. For example, “Designing for Retina Display,” parts I and II, offer a great crash course for new designers (and new developers). After all, if you know best practices, such as using the “@2x” tag when naming retina graphics, then you can better manage your designer and save on development time. (Word to the wise: few things are more frustrating for a programmer than working with a green designer.)
3. Hire the best designers you can afford. Though I still find talent on oDesk occasionally, I prefer to find designer on Dribbble.com, Behance.net, and Scoutzie.com for designers. I’ve found that more “expensive” designers often save me money in the long run because they can do better work faster. For example, one of my go-to designers created the new designs for BrightNewt.com in less than 2.5 hours!
4. Consider using a virtual viewport for Android apps. Because Android apps run on so many different devices and screen sizes, designing Android apps is a whole different ballgame. A seasoned programmer who does a lot of consulting turned me on to this solution for using a virtual viewport to accommodate multiple screen sizes.
5. Don’t forget your icon and screenshots. Give your game some curb appeal! I’ve spent as much as $1500 just for the app icon and screenshots. They’re the first part of your app’s branding that anyone will see. It doesn’t matter if your app is beautiful if no one ever sees it. An A+ icon and B- game will get more downloads and monetize better than a B- icon and A+ game.
If you’ve got any more tips on mobile app design, share them in the Comments section below!