Even though everyone can recognise a badly designed app when they try to use it, sometimes features that seem to be a great idea end up making the app suck.
It’s our job as UX designers to think about what an app will do and how it will do it, and make sure it meets the needs of those who’ll be using it.
This is the process of UX design, and it can make or break an app. To help you out a smidge, here are some tips on what to do and what not to do when designing your next killer app…
DO Help the User Understand What they Need to do
Users don’t like it when they have to spend time trying to figure out what to do – it either makes them feel stupid for not instantly ‘getting it’ or just annoys them.
So, make the main action that the user needs to complete on each screen really obvious. The primary call to action on each screen should instantly grab the user’s attention. It should be prominent, clear, descriptive and succinct.
Consistency is also key, displaying elements in the same position when they appear on multiple screens, rather than forcing the user to hunt for something they’ve seen somewhere else on another screen.
This will all help users understand how to use your app and then give them an incentive to keep using it.
DO Keep it Simple
An app’s primary function is to help the user achieve a specific goal, but bear in mind that you want the user to be able to perform their task quickly and easily.
Avoid unnecessary visual clutter and don’t make the user jump through hoops to reach their goal. Make their user journey as frictionless as possible.
Sometimes the simplest approach is the best – look at Uber, (the now defunct) Yahoo! News Digest and Google Trips to see simplicity done well.
DO Design for all your Users
Whether a new or an advanced user, your app needs to meet the needs of everyone that uses it. You shouldn’t expect them to know about things that aren’t immediately obvious, such as gestures.
For example, swiping to mark an email as read is a great time-saver, but if you don’t know about the gesture, there needs to be another way of performing the same function.
And if a user is new to your app, consider providing an onboarding experience to make their first use easier.
DO Keep the Experience Consistent Across Different Platforms
If your app exists across multiple platforms, from phone, tablet and desktop to smart TVs and watches, make sure the user experience is consistent.
Of course, there are platform-specific design conventions that should be followed, but make your app feel familiar by using the same visual style.
When there’s cross-platform parity, users find it much easier to use the app on a new platform because they’re already familiar with another.
Here you can see the interfaces of Reddit are completely different on iPhone and Desktop, whereas Spotify has consciously decided it’s important to keep the experience consistent:
DON’T Have Lots of Things Competing for Attention
It can be frustrating for a user when faced with lots of elements that compete for their attention. Faced with too many similar choices, users find it hard to pick one.
Create a clear visual hierarchy using size, shape and colour to communicate each element’s relative importance by prominence, and be consistent throughout the app.
That way, at a mere glance, users can clearly distinguish between what’s really important and what isn’t, without explicitly reading, understanding and consciously making a decision.
DON’T Explore Functionality with High-Fidelity Visual Designs
It’s easy to get wrapped up in creating something that looks amazing straight away. Clients are often eager to see what the app will look like, so, by all means, mock-up a few screens to whet their appetite or win the business.
However, it’s vastly more important to first define what the app will actually do. This will dictate how long it will take to build, and because time is money, how much it will cost.
The time it takes to make a change to something in a lovingly-crafted, build-ready visual design is greater than in a pencil sketch or a even a wireframe. So, the sooner you make that change, the less overall impact it will have on time and cost.
DON’T Make your App Unusable Without Logging-In
One of the features that often causes friction is Registration/Login – it can be a massive barrier, especially if the user isn’t yet ‘sold’ on your service.
Often you need the user to have an account so you can personalise their experience, save their preferences and provide continuity across multiple devices.
But think about offering a great experience even when the user isn’t logged in or doesn’t want to create an account.
YouTube does this well; you can use the core functionality of their app, viewing videos, with no problem on any device, but commenting requires an account to be set up. Plus, if you login, you can access your subscribed channels, view your history and even finish watching something on another device.
DON’T Reinvent the Wheel… Unless it Adds Value
You can design your own custom UI features – new, unique and shiny – but should you?
If a feature is going to be a real focus of your app, such as the legendary ‘spinny wheel’ of the BBC iPlayer Radio app, then by all means go for it.
But, if you’re designing a custom slider just to be used in a settings screen, you might want to re-think.
Coding something from scratch takes a lot longer than using something that’s built into the operating system.
Strong UX UX design can be the difference between an app succeeding and users failing to connect to your design. Keep your design logical and intuitive, and always consider making the user’s life as easy as you possibly can.
And don’t forget – when you’ve designed something, always get feedback (from real users ideally) as soon as possible. If they identify a feature or idea that just doesn’t work, get rid of it – don’t be precious about it. Ultimately, an app that looks fantastic but is not easy to use is a failure.