With the world striving towards a purely digital future, the importance of UX design cannot be understated. In particular, the rise of mobile devices has placed a spotlight on designing UX for apps, which is arguably now more important than ever. In fact, studies conducted by IMPACT suggest that the top 10 UX leaders in the United States consistently outperform the S&P, sometimes with triple the returns. With this being said, however, UX design is still a young discipline, and there is always plenty to learn for both novice and experienced designers alike. In this blog, we’re breaking down 10 crucial concepts, which hold the key to designing better app user experiences.
1. Understand Your Audience
Perhaps the earliest sign of success when designing UX for apps, is an understanding of your audience, brought about by user research. After all, how can one fulfill the demands of the user, without understanding who they are, and what they truly require from an app.
The importance of user research is highlighted well in this case study, about an electric mobility app, which showed why people may be hesitant to switch to electric, despite having a desire to do so. This, in turn, helped shape the ‘Revolt’ app into what it is today, pushing forth the idea of electric vehicles in a world of gas guzzlers.
2. Consistency is Key
It’s very important to establish a set of rules for your app UX, and adhere to them to a tee. Consistency helps build familiarity with users, and they are more likely to return to your app should the rules suit their convenience. The reason why great UX apps like Instagram, and Facebook are so successful, is because their rules are static, and we can always count on them. For example, the ‘double tap’ to like on Instagram is applied everywhere on the app, from posts, to comments, to chats.
3. Navigation Should be Simple
When it comes to UX for apps, the user should always know a couple of things. First off, the user should always know where they are, and secondly, the user should always know how to get where they wish to be. If these two principles are always true, then chances are, you have a highly functional app on your hands. This case shows how a designer might map out the path which a user takes through an app. As can be seen, the designer does this (very early in the design process) to identify how simple, or complex the navigation through the app appears, and tweaks it accordingly. The navigation in this case in particular looks linear, and allows for navigation from any one page, to any other in around 3 or 4 clicks, which is ideal, and indicative of an easily navigable design.
4. Clean, Simple Experiences are Best
The term “reduce cognitive load” is a common one in the app UX design space. Miller’s Law suggests that the span of immediate human memory and judgement sits somewhere around 7 items, known as the 7 ± 2 rule as well. For this reason, when it comes to UX for apps, less is always more, a simple rule of thumb to remember is that ‘one primary action per screen’ should always be adhered to.
A quick example of this is Instagram since, at any one point in an Instagram page, the user will have no more than 7 total actions available to them. Let’s take the main feed, for example, the user can interface with the one visible post in 3 ways (like, comment, share), and in addition to this, they can also navigate to one of the 4 other menus (search, post, activity, and profile) for a total of 7 available actions. This surely was a very deliberate choice on the part of Instagram’s UX team, in an attempt to reduce the cognitive load on the user.
5. Predict User Needs
Although this sounds like an obvious step, it’s alarming how many designers overlook this when creating UX for apps. The ability to predict what your user needs, and when, is somewhat of a superpower amongst UX UI designers. Having the foresight to put a ‘save’ button when someone quits out by accident, or a ‘print’ button next to something which most people would, make for the difference between good apps, and great apps. This also links back to the earlier point of understanding the user, as this makes their behavior much simpler to predict.
6. Make it Pop!
Visuals are an essential part of UX for apps, a good looking app goes a long way in having a more satisfying user experience. Having distinct visual elements in an app makes it recognizable and adds a certain flavor, or character to what is otherwise a utility. Additionally, having attractive visual elements keeps the user engaged for longer. As mentioned earlier, consistency is key, even in visual design, so it’s a good idea to lay out typography, color schemes, and organization early in the project, so you can build on it as time progresses.
This case study breaks down color choice made for an app, playing on our preconceived notions of how colours can convey information. For example, a light green was used to convey ‘success’ whereas a red was used for ‘caution’. These, while adding much needed visual flair to the UX, also subliminally convey things to the user, without having to reinvent the wheel.
7. First Impressions Matter
Much like other facets of life, your users first impression of your app will play a part in their overall experience with it. When designing UX for apps, it’s generally not a good idea to frontload login requests, payment options, or other screens which may turn the user off your product, unless absolutely necessary. Instead, set the mood for the user, and inform them briefly, and subtly about the experience they can come to expect when using your application.
In fact, it was reported that in 2019, only 32% of users launched an app more than 11 times, so it’s of great importance to nail the first impression. An example of a great first impression is the Reddit app, which is the app associated with the internet’s largest collection of online communities. The reddit app, on startup, doesn’t frontload any logins, and instead pushes you straight to the homescreen, and explore pages, allowing you to cultivate an impression of the app, and explore freely.
Once the user is invested, and wishes to post, comment, or interact with others, is a login demanded, and at this point, the user is both trusting, and willing to forgo their information in order to make an account. Long story short, a masterfully executed first impression, from a UX standpoint.
8. Minimize Loading Times
Let’s face it, people hate waiting. Studies suggest that the average human attention span fell from 12 seconds in 2000 to just 8 seconds now, 20 years later. While the incredible animation and logo display that appears at the boot of your app looks great in your head, it is a mere barrier between the user, and the app itself.
Fact is, the quicker the user can get to the real functionality of your app, the better. It’s a good idea to cut out auxiliary or unnecessary features, graphics, or audiovisual cues which bog down the loading time of your app. One needs to remember that when dealing with newer generations, especially millennials, their enjoyment of your app could hinge on mere seconds, and to get that snappy, responsive feel should be priority one when making UX for apps.
9. Test, Test, Test
Any UX designer will tell you that user testing is perhaps the single most significant step when it comes to UX for apps. This entails not just running through your app yourself, but also getting members of your prospective user base to have a look. There are always blind spots, oversights, and misinterpretations, and while something may make sense to you, it may not necessarily be the same for your user.
A great way to do this is to roll out quick iterations and updates to a small portion of your audience, once your app is established. This can be seen in plenty of social media, which roll out betas of newer versions constantly, to get feedback from dedicated users in a cost, and energy efficient manner.
10. Follow The Platform’s Guidelines
Both Android and iOS applications have their own set of guidelines when it comes to both visual, and technical aspects of an app. These apps generally are to protect the integrity of the Play Store, and App Store respectively, but adhering to them can also prove a great test when designing UX for Apps. The guidelines do tend to point designers in the right direction when it comes to UX, and also greatly improve the chances of getting approved on these platforms!
Frequently Asked Questions
There are a number of things which constitute making a good UX for apps. For example, as mentioned in the blog, constantly testing the product, making it quick and responsive, having distinct visual themes, and doing plenty of user research are all great steps to a better app UX.
One of the biggest challenges when making app UXs, is ensuring that the user has a clear understanding of how to navigate the app. As mentioned above, the user should always know where they are, and how to get where they want to go. This can be challenging since we as designers can sometimes find it difficult to put ourselves in the shoes of the users, which is why testing is of utmost importance.
There is an issue known as ‘cognitive load’, which is how much pressure is being put on the user when they use any particular screen in your app. Our job as app UX designers is to reduce the cognitive load on users, and keep things as clear as possible. Try to keep unnecessary flourishes, and elements to a minimum, and keep essential navigation and options at the forefront at all times.
You should research the resolutions for all devices your app is compatible with, and aim to make scalable designs around them. To do this, rather than looking at sizes, look at the aspect ratios of the screens in your favorite devices, which will make scalability a breeze. For example, the aspect ratio of a Google Pixel 4 uses a 19:9 ratio, while the iPhone 11 uses a 16:9 when landscaped.
The UX on your phone, the physical device itself, is everything from the way it feels in your hand, to how the home screen looks and feels. It’s more than likely that a team of UX designers have worked tirelessly to optimize the feeling you get when just swiping between home screens, or pulling up an app drawer.
Android UX would be referring to the operating system itself. This means everything on your mobile device, except for third party apps, would come under your UX for Android. Your home screen, app drawer, and lock screens would all be considered as contributing to the ‘user experience’ you have when using your Android device!
In mobile UX design, the acronym VIP is used to abbreviate the terms; visual, interruptible, and playful. These are essentially three guidelines for making fluid experiences for mobile. In essence, they state that your designs should be visually engaging, playful to interact with, and have interruptible gestures, to ensure the user feels in control at all times.
The Android mobile UI is quite simply everything you see on your phone screen, that isn’t a third party app. This includes the lock screen, home screen, app drawer, and settings. Essentially, anything that the user comes in contact with, and uses directly is a ‘user interface’.
User testing is a great way to isolate the needs, and wants of your average user. As a designer, we’re bound to have blind spots in our work, which will be much more easily spotted by a third party. Testing and implementing changes suggested by users will allow the intended audience to have a far more fruitful experience with your mobile application UX.
There are actually plenty! From Adobe XD, to Figma, to Sketch, there are truly hundreds of software out there on which you can design your app. They vary in everything from complexity, to available tools, to features, so it’s a good idea to do some research before committing to a tool.
Designing a mobile app for the first time can be a daunting task. As mentioned in the article, prototyping, and testing are both key aspects of mobile app design, however, the most underrated step is perhaps understanding the tool on which you are designing. If you understand your tool, you will gain a much more in-depth understanding of the process of app design.
This is a complicated question to answer, seeing as there are thousands of reasons why an app can fail, and indeed do. These can range from features regarding the app itself, such as poor performance, optimization, or constant paywalls, or even issues from the business end, such as poor pricing and marketing.
Mobile app UI design is in essence the ‘frontend’ part of app design for mobile. Standing for user interface, the UI is nothing more than the manner in which the ‘user’ interacts, or ‘interfaces’ with the app. In a less technical sense, all the menus, buttons, and screens you see in any app, constitute mobile app UI design.
All apps, in some way or another, provide the user with an experience. In a sense, all apps are ‘UX Apps’, since they provide some kind of intangible sensation to the user.
Good app design for mobile depends on many factors, ranging from tangible, to intangible. How the user feels when using your app, or the UX for short is an important factor, influenced by having an excellent user interface. Testing is also of paramount importance, since who’s a better candidate to tell you about your user experience, than your user itself.
A hybrid mobile UI is in essence, an app which was designed for the web, usually using HTML, which is displayed on a mobile device using some kind of packaging service, to translate the design into a mobile-friendly format.
App design tools are nothing more than the software and plugins which designers use to design apps. These can range from the more technical, to the more design-leaning. At the end of the day, all designers use some combination of app design tools to create a final product which they are proud of. For example, designing elements on Illustrator, moving to Figma for prototyping, and finally, testing on Framer is a complete design process, which requires the designer to be flexible with their toolset.
The answer to this question is purely contingent on your graphic design ability. If you’re comfortable with applications such as Illustrator, or other vector graphics software, then there’s nothing like creating your own logo from scratch using such an app. However, if you’re less confident in your artistic ability, you can use a premade logo making app, the likes of which can be found in the span of a quick google search.