Over the years mobile app stores have transitioned from niche utility spaces to one of the largest marketplaces on the planet. Consumers downloaded over 204 billion mobile apps in 2019, and that number continues to grow by the second. Not to mention, the biggest proprietors of mobile apps through their storefronts, Apple and Google are some of the largest companies on the planet. Due to the vast nature of the mobile app space, the process of mobile app design has become convoluted over the years, with many barriers in place for first time designers to cross before designing an effective app.
This need not be the case, however, in essence, the process of mobile app design has evolved plenty over the past decade, but it’s core tenets remain intact. In this blog, we’re breaking down the most important rules and practices to keep in mind when designing a mobile app, to simplify the process, while also making an intuitive application.
Mobile App Design – Best Practices
The following are Onething’s best practices for mobile app design. Implementing most of these in your design process will ensure a smooth journey from inception, to publishing. Also referring to our UX and UI best practices will help you refine the process more optimally.
Understand the user
Perhaps the most important step of the entire mobile app design process is identifying and understanding who your end-user is. This allows you to in turn design for a particular kind of person, significantly streamlining the process, and allowing you to optimize the finished product to far more specific parameters. It may help you at this point to create a UX persona, attaching a name and face to the needs, and wants of your user, or the result of your outcomes. We conducted extensive user research for our RBL CC project, and developed myriad UX personas around which to structure all future communications.
Employ Information Architecture
Good information architecture makes for good mobile app design UI and UX. All your favourite apps are expertly laid out in advance, to ensure that the navigation and placement are airtight. In essence, all the pieces of information are arranged logically in relation to not just each other, but the overarching context of the app. To get a better idea of what IA looks like, check out our work on the Revolt mobile app, where you can spot how we chose to organize the app the way we did.
Iterate on Wireframes
Wireframes are essentially early versions of how the experience of using the application will end up flowing. These ensure that your mobile app design UI and UX stay organized, and structured throughout the process, essentially acting as a backbone to the rest of your design. Be sure to constantly evolve your wireframes, building upon your previous designs and iterating, until finally, you’re satisfied with the result. You’ll probably look to start with low-fidelity wireframes to weed out minor oversights, and get a general idea as to the layout. Following this, you might move to annotated wireframes which go into much further detail of each element and layout, allowing you to put your thought process into practice. You can see how wireframes evolve to prototypes in our work with the PVR app.
Conduct user testing
User testing is an essential part of any mobile app design process. Allowing users to give insights and feedback on a still in-development product is valuable above all else. This goes hand in hand with the first point, user research, as the results of testing show how well you understood the user in the first place, and allows for you to make further refinements based on real-world reception.
Fact is, your sample size of user testers will be like a microcosm of your entire user base after launch. Catering to the needs of the small group of testers will ensure these issues aren’t viewed as oversights after launch. Changes can be small, such as labeling a button people didn’t understand the function of, or large, such as changing the entire colour scheme of the app.
Implement trends in the industry
There are few things considered ‘timeless’ when it comes to mobile app design, pick up any app from a decade past, and it will instantly feel dated. For this reason, implementing new trends can help keep your apps experience relevant and contemporary, while also increasing retention. 25% of users uninstall an app after their first use, with the majority of these pertaining to aesthetic issues, or intuitive interfaces, both of which can be combated by implementing mobile app design trends.
Some of the present trends to implement in your mobile app could be the ‘flat design’ trend which is so popular on the app store presently. Essentially ditching the shading for a two-dimensional look, a highly modern direction to take any app. One of the UI trends could be that of micro-animations, where small interactions between users and applications help create familiarity, for example, the login page for the VPN service TunnerBear, wherein the mascot follows you as you type in your credentials.
Build sustainably for the future
Much of the beauty of modern technology hinges on it’s inherent perpetuity. The fact that we can still download apps nearly a decade old, which haven’t been touched since speaks to the longevity of objects on the internet at least. However, herein lies the problem, mobile apps are mostly built to address a present need, not to constantly evolve towards the future, and this does come to show a lack of planning on the designers part.
Build your mobile app in a fashion such that it can be easily expanded, and constructed upon far past it’s publishing date. Whether its implementing a modular design system, or simply making the UX flexible enough to iterate upon for years to come, this is an important step if you are aiming for long term usage of your mobile app. Look at Instagram’s mobile app design UI, and how it’s iterated over the years, the philosophy and purpose behind the app remains the same, but it’s near unrecognizable from what it was a decade ago.
All told, the mobile app design process is a constantly evolving one. Every year, new trends in the market, fueled by developing user needs, alongside trends which come and go make app design dynamic in nature, forcing designers to constantly be on the ball should they wish to keep up. However, this is what we love about design, it’s ever-evolving nature demands a lot from its processes, but makes room for innovation and outside-the-box thinking at every turn. Follow the best practices, and you’re sure to nail down the mobile app design process, not just for now, but also for the future.
If you’re completely new to designing, there are plenty of plug-and-play design templates available on the app store itself, normally specific to their domain, such as “Recipes” to build a food app, or “Violet Dreams” to build an e-commerce app. For more advanced designers, there are developer kits and templates available specific to your design suite of choice. For example, Figma has templates available on their platform for everyone to use.
To paraphrase one of our earlier blogs; Sketch, Figma, and Adobe XD are all fantastic applications for UX UI design, being great mobile design software, offering flexibility, with low skill floors, and high skill ceilings, allowing for plenty of room to grow. However, everyone has different needs, and you should check out the piece to see which one could suit you best.
The entire blog above is about the best practices to uphold while doing mobile app design. Generally, some guidelines are:
1. Conduct user research before diving into the design process
2. Lay out the information architecture thoroughly
3. Use wireframes to evolve and adapt the designs
4. Conduct user testing to iterate and improve the design
Dribbble is a fantastic place to discover inspiration for all kinds of designs, not least, the mobile app design process. Essentially a pseudo-social media app for designers, likened to Pinterest, you can view the works of designers all over the world, along with concepts and guides in a visual format!
Adobe Illustrator is advisable to design app logos. It operates on vector graphics, which means once the logo is designed, it is infinitely scalable to suit any of your needs. Additionally, it’s a suite of features leaves designers spoilt for choice when it comes to logo design in particular.
As mentioned above, Dribble is a great source of all kinds of design inspiration. Additionally, Pinterest, with the correct search fields can yield plenty of inspiration for design. Medium is a great site for UX design inspiration in particular, and their articles are a great supplement to any designer.
Some of the best UX UI design firms and/or mobile app design companies in the world, both well established, and up-and-coming are as follows:
1. Nielsen/Norman Group
4. Onething.Design (We’d be remiss not to mention ourselves in such esteemed company)
All companies specialize in research-based UX UI design, leading hundreds of widely used apps amongst these four names.