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10 Best Practice Tips for Mobile App Design

Jul 31, 2017 - Blog

The key to an app’s success really boils down to how much value it gives someone and how easily they’re able to use it. It should integrate into everyday life, but also enhance it.

Technology might be constantly evolving, but when it comes to app design, there are ways of doing things that can improve the chances of your app being a success. With that in mind, here are a few of our best practice tips for mobile app UX design…

1. Function comes first

At the beginning of the design process, don’t worry too much about the standard stuff like login screens. Spending time and effort on basic functions you see in lots of apps doesn’t help you refine and improve the core idea.

Instead, prioritise the design of your app’s primary function first, so you can quickly demonstrate it and get useful feedback. Explore different ideas quickly through sketching – it’s a lot more efficient than diving straight into on-screen design.

2. Know your users

You aren’t designing for yourself, or your client – you’re designing for the user. Realising this at the beginning and doing research into who your users are before you begin a project can save a lot of time further down the line.

Understanding your user helps you to predict how and why they would interact with your app, and what goals they want from using it. Why would they engage with your app over the competition?

3. Get users on board

We’re increasingly accustomed to getting things done more quickly and efficiently, and less likely to tolerate bad user experience both digitally and in real life. Attention spans are short, and if your app doesn’t give a good first impression, it will likely be uninstalled or forgotten and never used again.

Simple apps should be self-explanatory, but if your app has a complex workflow or unusual interactions, let the user know. Short onboarding tutorials can be shown at the point of first use, so the user isn’t left unsure of how to get started using the app.

4. Usability

Making sure your app is usable seems like a no-brainer, but small details can make a massive difference to the user experience.

Ensure that your text is large enough to be easily read, button sizes are finger-friendly and well-spaced, gestures are logical and consistent, icons are meaningful and the app’s layout and navigation is clear – all this will help your users to use your app efficiently.

5. Simplicity and clarity

Don’t overwhelm the user with screen clutter or by making processes longer than they need to be. Many apps benefit from having a separate screen area for each key function or process, with a single, clear call-to-action.

The most important on-screen elements need to stand out, so make sure you match visual prominence to importance. Define a clear and consistent visual hierarchy of styles using relative size, colour and contrast to clearly communicate each feature’s relative importance without the user having to actually read or understand the words it contains.

6. Get personal, but don’t get pushy

Personalisation can do wonders for your app’s engagement, customising the app experience to the user’s likes, needs and preferences, and delivering more relevant content to them.

Knowing what your user is interested in can also allow you to send relevant notifications to them, but be careful about asking for too much information upfront.

It’s better to observe their behaviour and adjust the communication strategy based on what they do, rather than quiz them endlessly. Only send notifications that are valuable to the user – too many irrelevant notifications is a major reason people disable an app’s notifications or remove the app entirely.

7. Screen size matters

Remember a time when having the smallest phone meant it was the coolest? Well, that certainly has changed and some screens now approach tablet sizes with the release of plus-size versions of many phones.

As designers, this means we need to consider multiple device use cases, including UI features such as split-screening, and adapt our designs accordingly to work across a range of sizes.

Many people use their phones on the go one-handed, so you should consider how they’ll get to the most used UI elements easily, such as the features available in the ‘thumb zone’ at the bottom of the screen.

8. Gestures and force touch

Swiping, scrolling, pinching and deep pressing are all examples of gesture-based interactions and have become widely used across many apps. Implementing these in your app can drastically speed up access to frequently used functions for people who know how to use them.

You should use these features wisely though, ensuring users who aren’t familiar with these often hidden gestures are still able to perform the same functions through other means. They’re often best used as an ‘efficiency’ rather than a primary interaction method.

9. Need-to-know basis

It can be tempting to get as much information as possible out of your user during sign-up or checkout. However, the likelihood of a process being abandoned increases with the number of fields you add to a form, so only ask for crucial information.

You can also improve a data capture process, by including autocomplete, predictive suggestions and verification messaging if something doesn’t look right. Having to redo a form because a simple validation rule or guidance message is not present is very tedious.

10. Test test test

What’s the best way to make sure your app achieves its goals, on time and on budget? Show your ideas to real users and see how they get on.

User testing is a great way to see not only if your app concept works, but whether the users are able to navigate around it easily and in the way you want them to.

Using a simple prototyping tool such as Marvel, you can easily mock up and demonstrate an early concept on-device.

What is obvious to you may not be to a user. But don’t be disheartened when they highlight possible places for improvement – they’re helping make you a better designer.

The earlier you test, the earlier you identify any issues and make improvements, the less impact those issues will have on project timescales and costs. If you leave it until you have a built app, the cost to make changes can be significant.