What's it like to win an Apple Design Award? We chat with some of the winners

The judges of the Apple Design Awards choose winners from hundreds of new apps and games each year for their ability to show a strong visual design, great use of iOS technologies, and feature new and unique ideas. Only nine development companies win an Apple Design Award. It's kind of a big deal.

If you're wondering what its like to work so hard to achieve what can best be described as the Oscars (or Emmys or Grammys or BAFTAS, or whichever major award event you choose) of app design, I was able to chat with the developers of three of this year's Apple Design Awards, Ordia by Lujo, The Gardens Between by The Voxel Agents, and Pixelmator Photo by the Pixelmator Team.

What's it like to win an Apple Development Award?

The Gardens Between

What's the thing each of them said when asked what it's like to win an Apple Design Award? "Amazing." Everyone said the same thing ... Amazing.

Lujo's founder, Luke Hollands said, "It was a career goal I had set for myself five years ago. To me, there're two awards in this industry: The BAFTAs and the Apple Design Awards."

The Voxel Agents team won their first Apple Design Award for the 10-year anniversary of their company. It feels really fitting to finally get there after 10 years," said The Voxel Agents creative director Simon Joslin.

The Pixelmator Team is no rookie to winning an Apple Development Award. Pixelmator for Mac won in 2011. "It was very different times," said Pixelmator Team developer Simonas Bastys. "The company has changed a lot since then."

What makes an award-winning app?

Pixelmator Photo

Building an award-winning app is no small potatoes. Most developers spend years coming up with the perfect design, prototyping an app or game, and executing the final product. Most of the winning teams are also very small, so a lot of effort goes into each project.

Lujo's Hollands, for example, took two years to develop Ordia when inspiration sparked what was to become his winning game.

"This was a two-year project," said Hollands. "I started part time trying to transition from client work to just making my own games. After some time, I brought in a few people part-time to help me."

"It was a really fun thing to work on. We created a prototype, and I thought, 'This is the game we have to make,' because, from the get-go, it was just brilliant."

To create an award-winning app, you need the right mix of design aesthetic, uniqueness, and creativity. It's not easy, but these developers knew when they saw it that their apps and games would be something special.

I thought, 'This is the game we have to make,' because, from the get-go, it was just brilliant.

"The original concept was based on a scene in Minority Report where Tom Cruise is scrubbing forward and backward through time," said Matt Clark, creative director at The Voxel Agents We wanted to make a game where people were moving through timelines looking for clues."

"Once we worked out that we wanted to move time, the best thing you can do with that mechanic is to tell stories, so it was important to use to do that in a beautiful way."

Sometimes, inspiration comes from wanting to make something for yourself. The Pixelmator Team's inspiration for creating Pixelmator Photos started from a personal view.

"Last year, we decided, let's build something we'd like to use to edit our photos on iPad, a project we could finish in our lifetime," said Bastys. "We wanted to make something for us to use on the iPad."

The iPad has grown and evolved so much over the years that Team Pixelmator felt they could bring their technology to iOS without compromising.

"In some measurements, it's outperforming Mac with Core ML," said Bastys.

"New iPads have the neural engine. It's very fast. On the Mac, you don't even have the same performance for Core ML. These are places where the iPad even outperforms Mac technologies."

What do you do next?

Matt Clark and Simon Joslin of The Voxel Team

When you become an Apple Design Award winner, it's hard to imagine what comes next. How do you top that?

Lujo's founder would love to grow the company to more than just one person working full time with a handful of part-time developers.

"I'd love to hire a team full time to work on a project and put everything into it," said Hollands. "If this is the result of part-time work, imagine what we could do working full time."

The Voxel Agents team has big dreams ahead that they haven't even started dreaming about.

"We try to come up with something we believe in and think is really innovative and interesting, and then we spend years understanding and designing yet," said Joslin. "We're not in a rush, but we'll get there."

As for the Pixelmator Team, they're not even worried about trying to win another award.

"Right now, we're thinking about how we can improve Pixelmator Photo and we're planning a few major releases this year," said Bastys. "We're taking care of Pixelmator on Mac and are still working hard to make the apps we have the best apps as possible."

Congratulations to all the winners of the Apple Developer Awards this year. They're all amazing apps and games that really do meet Apple's high standards of excellent design, technology, and innovation.

Lory Gil

Lory is a renaissance woman, writing news, reviews, and how-to guides for iMore. She also fancies herself a bit of a rock star in her town and spends too much time reading comic books.  If she's not typing away at her keyboard, you can probably find her at Disneyland or watching Star Wars (or both).