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In 2014, apps have us more in their grips than ever before. After all, it’s the breakthrough year for wearable tech—we’re seamlessly integrating apps onto our person—using them to monitor our sleep patterns and count calories burned. We’re even syncing our home thermostats with interactive app technology. Indeed, the age of digital tech has been remade yet again.
But it’s important to also note that apps for art’s sake haven’t grown tired or weary. Curious developers continue to marry art and design in such a way that intrigues and keeps us staring, swiping and touching. By tablet screen or by phone, the artistic app remains a hallmark treasure of technology.
Looking at the interactive splashes of the year, big and small, I find myself drawn to these apps that bridge modern and minimalist to frenetic and whimsical. Whether you’re sorting, savoring or creating art with the four front-runners below, form and function are consistently (and elegantly) held in tension to deliver a captivating overall experience.
Despite an app’s initial appeals to color, comedy or adventure, thoughtful design still reigns above all.
1. Monument Valley Monument Valley’s critical and popular acclaim is no fluke. This M.C. Escher–inspired gem speaks to users young and old alike. Players are invited to guide the female protagonist through levels of pastel castles, with waves crashing into stone walls and fog-laden landscapes.
Ustwo, the team behind Monument Valley led by developer Ken Wong, envisioned a game in which architecture takes center stage, and where its interests in aesthetics, geometry and impossibility would be woven throughout. “We had a general notion during the design process to make a game that could be played by people who don’t usually play games,” Wong says. This desire “greatly informed the entire user experience, from the user interface to the controls to the design of the world.”
Beyond the obvious Escher bent, design-savvy players will notice other hints of inspiration spanning Arabic calligraphy, poster design and architectural models. Created as a short gaming experience, Monument Valley leaves us wanting more ethereal adventures.
2. Artsy It’s never been easier to collect, sort or meditate on work by your favorite emerging artist. Curious about what that dream piece is selling for? Starved for a serious creative surge?
Artsy, an app specifically designed for the iPhone, curates art within the digital space and delivers it right to your fingertips. You’ll explore artworks for sale, upcoming shows and top art news. Set against a crisp, clean white background, Artsy highlights the true star of the app: the art itself.
Featured shows and collections slide by on screen, prompting further study in a user-friendly interface. Art-related editorial content also offers a deeper dive via commentary on exhibits, artists and aesthetic movements.
Artsy connects all art lovers of the world—and gives them a rare chance to carry a universe of brilliant work in their pockets.
3. BlekA lot has changed since you created your first line on an Etch A Sketch. Now, the two siblings working under the “kunabi brother” brand name have taken the modern-day Magna Doodle to new heights on screen, leveraging modern, Bauhaus-inspired design in a challenging game of gestures.
Unlike Monument Valley, there’s no end to what’s possible throughout Blek. In a playful spin on simple shapes, the game invites the user to draw a line and watch it take form again and again. Players must avoid all of the black holes in their line’s path while collecting colored circles—all with simple line gestures.
Blek challenges us to unite our right- and left-brain hemispheres, revealing that there’s more than one possible path at any single fork in the road.
4. Leo’s Fortune Ready for a wacky and whimsical journey? The folks at 1337 & Senri developed a mobile platform gold rush–themed adventure game in which users venture across a gamut of colorful scenes and emotions with a most unexpected friend: Leo, a mustache-sporting green furball whose fortune is missing. Players guide Leo along the trail of gold to hunt down his loot, jumping, floating and sailing across 24 different environmental levels, from lush foliage and desert tundra to snowy mountain peaks.
This evocative experience full of rich hues of blue, brown and emerald reminds players of any age to stop, engage and enjoy the sweet escape of an adventure.
This article originally appeared in the December 2014 issue of Print: The Regional Design Annual. For more best of the year coverage, plus the 350 best designs of the year broken down by region, get a copy.