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Best of Galaxy Store Awards 2019 Winner: John Shih's Journey from Industrial Designer to Best Indie Themes Designer

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Samsung Developers

As we continue to recognize the Best of Galaxy Store Awards, we now feature X9 Studio, winner of Best Indie Themes Designer.

John Shih, Principal at X9 Studio, shares his journey from industrial designer to themes designer. Learn how he made the transition, the universal elements of design, and tips for those interested in taking a similar path.

How did you get into designing themes?

I’m an industrial design consultant who helps companies developing new consumer products and physical products, such as toys, consumer electronics, medical equipment, etc. I think that separates me from most theme developers who are coming from a graphic design background of sorts.

I discovered the Galaxy Themes program while producing my first watch face app in late 2018 and jumped on the opportunity to be a part of the themes early access program.

How did you make the transition from industrial designer to a themes designer?

In 2013, I was in the process of preparing to launch a traditional wristwatch company via kickstarter.com. But I realized that market would soon be replaced by smartwatches, so I shelved it and started learning Android app development in my spare time.

A few years later, I investigated wearable platforms and noticed Samsung's smartwatch platform was more developed than Google’s. Then I bought a Galaxy Watch and discovered Galaxy Watch Designer and Galaxy Themes Studio tools which led me to become a Samsung developer.

How has being an industrial designer helped you in designing software apps?

Apps such as Galaxy Themes and Watch Faces are basically virtual products in digital form. While the process of designing physical products is completely different than developing apps, design fundamentals such as color theory, contrast, proportion, and many other aspects are universal.

I must point out one unique strength of industrial design that can apply to designing interfaces: the ability to conceptualize and execute designs in three dimensions. Traditional graphic design deals mostly with two dimensions.

When designing themes, what is the most important UX consideration in terms of design?

A well-designed theme involves arranging all of its elements in an elegant and logical manner that produces a seamless interaction between the user and mobile phone.

Elegant layout and logical layout are often contradicting each other. For example, scientific instrument panels in real-life are often boring but very logical for their easy-to-read purpose. While the scientific instrument panels in movies are visually pleasing, they are typically not so easy to read.

For designing themes, the most important UX consideration is usability. Well-designed themes encompass a balanced dance between visually pleasing elements and logical layout.

You were awarded Best Indie Themes Designer, however you got started as a Galaxy Watch Designer.

Yes, developing a watch face is not only more related to industrial design than developing themes, but it’s also what I intended to do back in 2013.

As a designer do you use a similar process when designing themes and watch faces?

Usability is universal, it’s a blueprint for successful design in both themes and watch faces. However, the two have very different usages. Watch faces are meant to be used in a very short duration like a few seconds, while interaction with mobile phones are much longer. The design approach for the two are quite different as well.

What is the biggest technical/design hurdle when designing a watch face?

I would say it’s the physical screen size, there’s only so much information you can put in a 360x360 pixel area before the watch face becomes overloaded with clusters of information.

What is the biggest technical/design hurdle when designing a theme?

Unlike watch faces, which consist of one or two pages at the most, phones have tens of pages. The same pages may have different elements depending on OS versions and phone models. The biggest challenge designing themes for me is familiarizing myself with the overall layout of each OS version. Staying abreast of the most popular Samsung phone models is also an ongoing process.

Based on your journey from industrial designer to watch face designer and now award winning themes designer, are there any tips you can give designers who are interested in taking a similar journey?

Human-product interaction is universal for both virtual/digital and physical products. Physical products deal with ergonomics and digital/virtual products deal with interaction. But the end goal for both is the same: to create a seamless and pleasant user experience for the products.

For industrial designers, watch face development is relatively the same with industrial design, so it would be a good starting point to get their feet wet.

What is next for X9 Studio?

Developing virtual goods for virtual worlds is another area that I’m looking at. But for the immediate future, I’ll continue to focus on watch faces and themes development.

What advice do you have for new designers looking to create a successful theme or watch app business?

For new designers who just got out of school, my advice is to continue your design education through your first job or two. Learn about watch and theme app development, and make a few apps on your own spare time and see where it takes you.

For seasoned designers, create some apps using Galaxy Watch Designer and Galaxy Themes Studio. See if it’s the right path for you. Having a realistic expectation will go a long way. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Keep your day job while building up your app portfolio. Eventually you’ll be able to work anywhere on earth where the internet reaches.

How has Samsung helped your business?

Coming from a completely different industry with very limited knowledge of app development, the Samsung Developer Program (SDP) and fellow Samsung developers have been instrumental to the success of X9 Studio.

The SDP website provides a wealth of learning materials, and the SDP team members provide invaluable insights for new developers like me, which are absolutely the keys to X9 Studio’s growth.

Samsung’s developer community, like the developer forum is another valuable resource.


We want to thank John for sharing his journey to becoming the Best Indie Themes Designer 2019 and the universal aspects of product and software design. Be sure to check out X9 Studio’s themes portfolio and download your favorite in the Galaxy Store. If you're reading this on a Samsung device, check out the X9 Studio Brand Page.

Follow us on Twitter at @samsung_dev for more developer interviews as well as tips for building games, apps, and more for the Galaxy Store. Find out more about our Best of Galaxy Store Awards.