‘Devs Doing It Right 2’: Echo Visuals President Melanie Lombardi Takes a Deep Dive Into Theme Design

Melanie Lombardi

President at Echo Visuals, Inc.

To kick-off our ‘Devs Doing It Right 2’ series, we spoke with Melanie Lombardi, President of Echo Visuals, a design company that focuses on creating fun, eye-catching themes and watch faces for Samsung devices.

Please tell us a bit about Echo Visuals and how your company got into developing Themes for Samsung.

Before Echo Visuals was founded, I created themes for Samsung as an individual seller. I received an S6 Edge as a gift, and stumbled across the Theme Store when it was in its early stages. I noticed a banner in the Theme Store which said they were accepting new designers for Theme Development, and that is where the journey began. I started small with a few free themes, and after that I started monetizing my themes with hopes that it could turn into a full-time business. And, finally, it did. However, now that the Theme Store has grown significantly and has many more theme developers, we have to keep up with the quantity of themes being released daily and we’re hoping that we will soon be able to increase our capacity and our theme production.

What are the biggest technical/design hurdles you have to clear when designing a theme?

Echo Visuals creates high-quality, animated themes. From the beginning, engineering them has been the most difficult part. At the earliest stages we were free with respect to animation image resolution, playback speed and file size, so we were able to create themes with complex animations. After that, however, tight guidelines were put into place, and we struggled to keep delivering themes with high-quality animations.

How did you go about solving this challenge?

We studied the animated tool in-depth so that we could still create great animated themes, even though they had to be simplified. Before the guidelines were put into place, we would create the animations with video-editing software and then export them as a series of still images. We could then import them into the editor. With the guidelines, we no longer had the ability to do this, so we studied the animated tool and created the animations within the tool instead of on separate video-editing software. We imported different image layers into the tool and animated them manually by using frame actions and simple effects, so that we could still offer animated themes that users were satisfied with.

What does your planning process look like?

The first thing we do before creating a theme is look at the current climate, identify what might be missing in the store, and analyze user feedback. Once we have all of these pieces, we’re able to make a decision on which type of theme will be made next. The next step is to create the theme’s animation, build the theme, have it tested by Samsung, and then finally release it in the store.

From a design perspective, what is the most important UX consideration you have to take into account when developing a theme?

It’s easy to overdo it with theme design. Finding the right balance is critical. If you customize too little, then users do not feel like they are getting any value out of your product. If you overdo it, then all of a sudden the design is too distracting and takes away from the purpose of the phone. It’s important to find the right balance to ensure users feel happy with both the amount of customization, as well as the usability of their device.

Can you tell us about one of your top performing themes and what made it so successful?

Our most popular theme two years in a row is Gear (Premium Live). We believe that users like the animated lock screen, sounds, and simplicity of the theme. It has a very clean design that can be appreciated by a wide audience.

How do you see Echo Visuals evolving as content formats shift with the advent of new technologies?

We’re always looking at what’s next. Every time a new device or a new OS is released, we go through all of our themes and update them for compatibility and improvements. We adapt our designs to make sure they fit the new phone’s resolution, as well as create any new assets that are needed. It’s also important to us that users can keep using the themes they have already purchased, even after they switch to a different phone, so we do everything we can to keep our themes up to date.

Are there emerging technologies that you’re keeping your eye on?

We’re always keeping an eye on new technologies that are implemented on new devices. The way we design will keep evolving and we will adapt to the changes in UI that new technologies bring. Our goal is to always examine new features, then integrate them into both new and existing content where it makes sense to do so.

What advice can you share to upcoming designers who are interested in developing for Themes for Samsung?

My advice for upcoming theme designers is to create an art portfolio that shows your creativity, design skills and interests. It would be helpful to show your artistic ability and any previous experience in mobile UI design or another artistic field.

If you are new to creating themes, I recommend you come up with your own style so that your themes stand out from others. Many themes are released in the store per day, but if your themes have their own unique style, they will definitely catch the users’ attention.

Thanks to Melanie for sharing her thoughts with us. Make sure to like us on Facebook so you don’t miss any of the great interviews we’ll be posting in the coming weeks. We’re excited to see how these top designers are doing it right!