In this design critique, I will be analyzing a popular alarm clock application for iOS called Alarmy. It is marketed as an app that will ensure that you get out of bed every morning thanks to its rather off-beat alarm deactivation methods which range from the usual “dismiss alarm” button to math challenges and taking pictures of familiar objects. Other than that Alarmy also integrates relaxing white noise (called Sleep Music), news and weather information in its feature set.
This critique will evaluate Alarmy along the following rubric
- Discoverability & Understanding
- Five areas of UX — Usability, Utility, Functional Integrity, Visual Design, Persuasiveness
- Guidelines for thoughtful product design
- It Alarmy well designed?
Alarmy’s primary affordance, even suggested by the name, is the ability to set alarms on your phone. On digging into the application, however, we find even more affordances signified mostly through icons, but also text in some places. In the annotations below, I list the primary affordances of the app by marking the signifiers that indicate their presence.
While the distinction is easily confused in the realm of digital products, it is important to remember how affordances and signifiers differ — signifiers are the visual elements which indicate or provide access to affordances. While the arrows above point to the different signifiers found in the app, the annotations themselves are affordances that the signifiers indicate.
Alarmy covers the essential affordances of allowing the user to set and manage multiple alarms but goes a step beyond by allowing the user to set quick alarms — one-off alarms which can be set quickly through a simplified interface. The quick alarms affordances proves essential when setting alarms for special events or waking up earlier than usual. The interfaces for both affordances are well presented and easy to use.
Alarmy utilizes icons and highlighted text for signifying interactability or the presence of affordances.
The signifiers used for the majority of the application’s features are self-explanatory either due to the use of common icons or the accompanying text with the icons to clarify their purpose. However, there are still a few important signifiers which are ambiguous in their current presentation. Let’s take a look at these.
Discoverability & Understanding
Alarmy uses distinct and clearly highlighted icons and text for as signifiers and hence affords high discoverability of its different features. The signifiers are mostly understandable and their function can be predictably guessed without even using them. However, as noted above, there are a few vague signifiers which do not suggest the relationship between their affordances very clearly and so overall understanding suffers a little.
Five areas of UX
Alarmy is a highly usable application due to a well-designed and responsive interface. There are a few problems with the use of signifiers, as noted above, but those are easily overcome during the very first interaction with them. On subsequent tries, the user can easily and efficiently complete common tasks.
I rate the app high in utility thanks to clever additions such as quick alarms, weather and, news. Quick alarm allows the user to set one-off alarms. News and weather information within Alarmy allows users to quickly check this after deactivating their morning alarm.
Alarmy generally performs well and is devoid of bugs. However, it has one glaring issue which holds it back from being great. It cannot play the alarm sound if the user’s iPhone is on vibrate-only. While this is a restriction imposed by iOS on all applications, it does detract from the overall experience of using Alarmy, especially since iOS’s own Clock app can play alarms regardless of the ringer setting.
Alarmy is a beautiful application with a well thought out interface and smooth animations. It scores highly in visual design.
I’ve been using Alarmy for the greater part of a year now as my dedicated alarm clock app. It has replaced the Clock app for setting and managing alarms. The general customizability of the alarms and the quick alarms feature are my top reasons to use this app and are in my opinion, what make this app very persuasive to use every day.
Guidelines for thoughtful product design
These guidelines are an updated rubric of product design standards for measuring modern physical or digital products. For the sake of brevity, I will not explicitly mention my comparison of Alarmy against each guideline. However, I can safely say that Alarmy satisfies most guidelines with flying colors and emerges as a highly usable product.
- The app is action oriented as evidenced by how it is organized — alarms, sleep and news, and users can execute any action they want at any time.
- As covered earlier, affordances and signifiers are easily discoverable and there are no poor affordances present in the application. There are a few signifiers which are not obvious, but their behavior is easily learned on first use.
- The simple nature of the affordances makes the features easy to learn, remember and require no training beyond first use.
- Being an alarm clock app, and a good one at that, it has a high degree of utility and does not exist just for the sake of existing.
- Since this product is a part of the iOS app ecosystem and consistently follows Material Design guidelines, it is internally and externally consistent in the large ecosystem of apps present on the App Store.
- Alarmy does not contain superfluous features in general. However, in personal usage, I never use the Sleep Music feature. I initially considered this to be a superfluous feature, but I’ve since surveyed the internet and asked many friends about their opinion on this and found that this feature is used by many people, just not me.
- Alarmy is prompt in offering feedback on user action. It also confirms destructive actions with the users so that they don’t accidentally delete their alarms. However, the ability to undo the delete action would have been a better choice since the current prompt interrupts the user every time they delete an app.
Is Alarmy well designed?
Alarmy scores well across the product design rubric discussed above and is a delightful application to use. It exhibits all the signs of a well-designed product and in my opinion, is the result of a user-centered process.
I believe changing the ambiguous signifiers to more representative ones would be the main change I would make to improve Alarmy as a product. Here is a list of the signifiers I would change
- Add text to the bottom navigation icons to explicitly state the purpose of the signifier.
- Change the Add Alarm button to a new symbol which indicated that it is an expandable menu.
- Add a Play icon to the Sleep Music cards to show that they control music playback.
I believe that the team behind Alarmy followed a rigorous user-centered design process while designing the app. While most alarm clock apps are either filled with extraneous features which are either ill-thought or gimmicky, I like that the feature set here is more than basic alarm management but cherrypicked to immediately make sense to the user. The design effort put into this app reflects thoroughly in its 4.8 rating score made up of 46,651 individual user ratings.