Assembly’s lofty goal is “graphic design for everyone”, and it mostly succeeds.
We’ve of late noticed quite a few iOS design apps desperately wanting to be desktop products. This brings associated cruft and complexity that iOS was supposed to avoid. Assembly takes a different approach, providing a methodology for creating vector artwork that a child can grasp, yet that even jobbing designers will find value in.
On first launch, you’re given some basic instructions, but even if you swipe through them all in a haze, you’ll later have few problems with the app itself. At the foot of the screen, there’s a shapes drawer, and you drag individual shapes to the artboard.
Tap a shape and you can resize and rotate it using a drag handle; the right of the screen houses tools to mirror, duplicate, or trash a selection. Shapes can be grouped by tap-holding the screen, dragging across those you want to join, and tapping a lock icon. Additionally, shapes can be recoloured and made semi-transparent, and have strokes and drop-shadows applied. Should you want a little more texture, you can load a photo as a background rather than using a flat colour.
Regardless of your level of expertise in graphic design, Assembly is a joy to use. In reality, it no more transforms you into a graphic designer than playing Need For Speed turns you into a street racer. In a sense, it’s more of a toy — a modern-day take on playing with felt shapes. But play can lead to great things. For the novice, Assembly is a way to import a photo, be a bit creative, and export the result — and not feel what they can make is limited by their ability. For the jobbing designer, it’s a sketchpad for rapidly working up basic ideas that can be exported to SVG and enhanced elsewhere. And for general creative types of any age, it’s a new and enjoyable means of making artwork on an iPhone or an iPad.
There are shortcomings. There’s no masking or shape merging, the latter meaning that applying styles to grouped objects can lead to odd results. You don’t get gradient fills nor any text unless you build it from shapes. And the minimal flat-coloured output has an aesthetic that can at times nudge worryingly close to clip art.
But given enough time — and perhaps some final touches and textures added in other apps — Assembly has range, as evidenced by the featured gallery within the Inspirations tab. While it might at times propel you back to kindergarten, it has, like many ostensibly childlike creative pursuits on iOS, hidden depths. Rather than being dismissive, in the manner people were with iOS ‘finger painting’ apps that were subsequently used to create art for gallery exhibitions and a New Yorker cover, embracing Assembly feels like the smarter option.
Assembly is available on the App Store and requires an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch running iOS 8 or newer. IAPs exist for additional 79p shape packs. You can by them all for £2.99, or take a punt and unlock all future packs for £4.49 (which is still 25p cheaper than buying them individually). Find out more about the app at assemblyapp.co.