How to Design a Great Mobile App

How to Design a Great Mobile App

There’s a whole new dimension to design when creating an app for mobile devices. Let us help you stay focused and aware of the important things – just follow this simple guide and you’ll be well on your way to designing apps that will stand out and make a difference!

It’s a question from the age of enlightenment: what does it take to design a great mobile app? The answer has changed over time, but one thing remains constant: there are no shortcuts.

To make an app that people will want to use, you have to put in the hard work, sweat the details and make sure it meets your audience’s needs. Sure, getting the basics right is important – focusing on user experience (UX) and making sure it looks good, but that’s just a starting point.

Of course, you know that your design must be easy to use and responsive. You also know that the user should be at the centre of your app design process. What you may not know, however, is how to put all these pieces together to create a successful mobile app design. Regardless of which road you choose, there are plenty of considerations to keep in mind so you don’t end up with a product that doesn’t meet its users’ needs.

Mobile app design:Step-by-step guide and key considerations

Define the goals of your app

Just as you wouldn’t set out to build a house without first determining the size, location, and purpose of the property, neither should you set out to design an app without first understanding its goals. What problem is your app going to solve? Who is it going to help? What will its users want out of it?

The answers to all these questions should be determined before you do anything else. They provide a sort of long-range map for how the UI (user interface) will function and what features it will include. Your goals are also the most important thing to keep in mind throughout the entire design process, so make sure they’re solidified before you move on.

There are many different ways to go about defining your goals, but in general, they should be specific enough that they can be achieved within a specified period of time. For example, if you want to create a great app for people who use social networking sites, then it would be helpful to define what types of features and functionality your users want.

Have a clear concept (App idea)

An obvious point, but one that many overlook. It’s tempting to start designing right away. But before you even think about pixels, you have to know what you’re creating. The best apps are built around a single, crystal-clear concept that’s easy to communicate and understand. Try explaining your app idea as simply as possible—if you can’t do it in one sentence, you probably don’t know what it is yet.

A good way to crystallise your thinking is to write down your answer to the question: What does my app do? If your answer changes every time or is full of ifs and buts, then go back to the drawing board and figure out exactly what problem you’re solving.

Don’t skip market research

There are more than  2.22 million apps on the Apple App Store and a little over 3.48 million apps on Google Play (Statista), so it’s a good idea to spend some time researching your niche and competitors before you start designing your app.

Knowing what’s out there will help you design something unique that will appeal to your audience. It also helps you identify gaps and opportunities in the market, which could lead to new ideas for your app.

As you’re researching other apps, pay attention to their user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) design. You need to learn from what they did well, but also what they did poorly so you can improve on those elements in your design.

Get straight with your users’ goals (Know your users)

This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s amazing how many designers fail to follow this simple rule. How can you know how your app will be used if you don’t know who will be using it? And more importantly, why would you want to? For example, if you’re designing an app for a workforce that spans the globe, your users will expect 24/7 access to the app. They’ll also want features that allow them to collaborate with colleagues in different time zones. If you’re designing an app for an older audience, on the other hand, they’ll probably need larger buttons and text sizes. The point is: that if you don’t know who your users are, you won’t be able to deliver an effective mobile app design

Refine your features list

The initial step would have thrown up various features that are necessary for making an app great; however, when you start thinking about the development and user experience of the app, some things don’t make sense or add value. There’s also the possibility that some features will be too expensive to develop or require more time than you have for this project. Use your judgement and cut down on these features.

On the other hand, it may be tempting to keep adding more and more features to your app as people suggest them or as you think of new ones; however, it is important to hold back and stick to the original plan as much as possible. If there are additions that are very important but not necessarily critical at this point, then consider them for future updates.

Here is the thing: there is no way you can fit in everything that you think is necessary for an app. You need to prioritize, and then start choosing.

Create a user-flow diagram

You have your problem, you know your audience, and you’ve done your research. Before you dive into the wireframes, let’s take a step back and look at the big picture. You’ll create a user-flow diagram that shows all the screens in your app and how they link together. A user-flow diagram is a map of all the steps a user might take as they use your app. It’s like an old-fashioned choose-your-own-adventure book series:

At each decision point, there are multiple options for what happens next. These diagrams can get pretty complicated, but there are some great tools to help you create them. Don’t worry about making this perfect just get it out on paper so you can get an idea of how big your app will be and how much work it will take to design.

Design wireframes

At this point, you’ve got a solid idea of what your app is going to do and who it’s being built for. It’s time to start designing the look and feel of the app, which means creating wireframes

If you’re not familiar with wireframing, it’s the blueprint for designing a mobile app, website, or other pieces of software. It helps you get a sense of the flow and placement of content before you start working on the design itself.

Designers use wireframes as a way to show the different elements on a page and how they relate to each other. These visual guides are very simple and don’t have any colour or styling, but they have all the main components of your mobile app. Most designers start on paper, sketching out all their ideas before moving onto the computer for more detailed mockups.

What you want to achieve at this stage is to figure out how your users will interact with your product—where they’ll tap and swipe, what they’ll see when they do things, etc.

Decide on design patterns and colour Palettes

The goal here is to understand how your app will be structured, as well as the basic feel of your app. To that end, you need to pick a style that you will use for the UI. This is where you look at apps that have already been created by designers and see what are the best ones out there. Also, you need to consider your branding in your decisions.

Different design patterns can be used for a mobile app. Some common examples are:

  • Grid View – A grid view presents a series of images in a scrollable list or grid.
  • The infinite scroll.
  • Tabbed View – Tabbed views let users switch between different content displayed on one screen.
  • Carousel View – Carousel views are useful when there is more than one item that needs to be displayed at the same time. This type of interface is used very often in eCommerce apps.

Also, remember to consider things like where the menu will be located on your app’s pages (typically at the top-left corner) and whether you’ll have more than one page in your app. If so, then keep in mind that each page will have its purpose and should have its own identity.

Next, decide on colour palettes that will help guide the user through their experience with the app. If something is supposed to be clicked or touched, make sure there’s a visible indicator intended specifically for those interactions (like underlining text or having a button glow when you touch it).

Create more detailed mockups

More detailed than just wireframes, mockups should include realistic images, fonts, and colours. The more detail you add to your mockups, the easier it is for user testers to understand and give feedback on the flow and usability of your app.

Mockups are great for refining the layout of your app. They’re also handy for showing how a page will behave when you click or type on it.

There are different tools used in creating mockups such as Balsamiq, Axure, InVision and many more. The best app designers know their way around these tools and use them to create clear, polished, highest-fidelity mockups of what their apps will look like – and not just for one screen, but for all the screens that a user may encounter. Going through this process helps ensure that every step of your user’s journey is smooth and seamless from beginning to end. It puts everyone on the same page about what the final product will look like and how it will work. It also helps them see what will work in their design before it gets coded into an actual application.

Ensure to adhere to mobile app design best practices

Keep Your App Simple

When designing an app you also want to be sure that you aren’t including too many features or functions – your goal is to create something that is easily navigable and intuitive for users. You also want to be sure that any text or imagery is clear so that it enhances the user experience.

Consistency is Key

Your app should be consistent across devices, platforms and operating systems. This means that if users are using different versions of your app (think iOS vs. Android) they should still be able to easily navigate it.

Use Icons & Colour Wisely

Icons are helpful because they don’t take up much space, but are still easy for users to identify. Colour is also important—you want to use colours that differentiate between clickable and non-clickable items or options. Try not to use more than three colours, though—more than that can make your app look cluttered and vague.

Minimize the number of steps a user has to take to complete every task

There’s no universal rule as to how many taps and clicks are too many. It depends on what your app does and who it’s for. However, if something can be done in 3 taps, don’t make users go through 5.

Intuitive navigation

You should avoid asking users where they want to go next because it increases their cognitive load. Instead, show them what they can do next based on what action they took previously and offer multiple paths towards achieving their goals so that they don’t have to start from scratch

Make it easy for one-handed use

As much as we’d like to imagine that our users have the luxury of two hands to hold their phone, the reality is that many times they don’t. In situations where they’re on the go, or multitasking (maybe eating a sandwich while reading your app?), it’s much more convenient for them if they can use your app with just one hand. Consider keeping your buttons within reach of the user’s thumb—the bottom third or so of the screen should be reserved for important functions that can easily be tapped with one hand (preferably without looking).

App accessibility

There are a variety of disabilities, including visual, auditory, speech and physical disabilities that can interfere with your app’s usability. While it’s impossible to design an app for every disability, you want to try to make your app as accessible to as many people as possible. Some simple ways you can do this include using high-contrast colour schemes, making sure the font is easily legible and responsive to font size changes, and ensuring there’s the appropriate spacing between elements. You should also make sure your app is compatible with accessibility features like VoiceOver. If your app is not accessible to disabled users, you’re potentially excluding a large portion of your audience—won’t let that happen!

Anticipate the next action of users

The aim is to provide an experience that’s as smooth and easy as possible. A good design will make use of past actions so that future actions can be anticipated and recommended. You can also learn from where users tap and swipe, to shape the design accordingly. For example, if most users tap on a certain part of the screen, this might indicate that you should make it bigger or easier to access.

Use negative space

This is the “empty” space between your main components that give the user’s eyes a visual break and defines the layout for easier interaction.

Have a clear hierarchy

By focusing on one element at a time, users can easily locate what they’re looking for.

Focus on personalization

When it comes to user experience, personalization is key. Personalizing the experience of your app for each user can be challenging for businesses that have multiple types of customers or different use cases, but it’s also one of the most valuable ways to connect with users.

Personalized experiences allow users to feel like they’re getting content that’s relevant specifically to them, which keeps them engaged and interested in what you have to offer. This can include something as simple as sending push notifications based on location or allowing users to customize their profiles within the app.

Another way apps can be personalized is by using location services. Apps like Uber are great examples of this: they use GPS data so they know exactly where you are and which drivers are nearby. This helps create a more efficient experience for the user because now they don’t have to enter their address every time they need an Uber!

Make onboarding easy for first-time users

If you want to impress your users and keep them coming back, you need to make onboarding as quick and easy as possible. In other words, you need to minimize the amount of time it takes for a user to get started with your app. The quicker they can access features and have a good experience, the more likely they are to feel confident about using your app.

An effective way to do this is by cutting out steps. If a user needs to fill in their name, address, and phone number just so they can browse through your app’s features, then you’re making onboarding too difficult for them.

Instead of making users fill out a long and tedious form, give them the option to bypass it altogether. A better idea is to provide them with an option where they can fill out their details later or just skip it altogether.

If you’re not sure what you need to include in the onboarding process, take a look at the other apps in your industry that have a lot of subscribers. What are they doing? What have they included? Which parts are necessary, and which can be cut out?

Design for speed

The aim is to build a mobile app that’s fast, smooth and glitch-free. You can accomplish this by using the right technology stack and building your app with expectations of real-life cell connection speeds in mind. The best way to do this is to use technologies that are designed to be quick and light on data, such as preloading images or making sure you’re only loading what you need at any given time.

Enhance your app with trend-led technologies

It’s easy to get caught up in the basics of building an app, but if you want to impress your users, don’t forget to put some thought into how you can incorporate trend-led technologies that will enhance their experience. For example, mobile payments are becoming increasingly popular with brands like Apple Pay and Bank of America’s Mobile Wallet. By incorporating such a system into your app, it could make the user experience more streamlined and convenient while using your service. Other examples include integrating location-based services to give users relevant information based on where they are, or introducing new ways to interact with your service, such as voice control and Augmented Reality (AR). As well as enhancing the overall user experience of your app, these technologies will keep your business on the cutting edge.

Get feedback on your design and revise accordingly

The design process is never complete without asking for feedback from the users. Test your app with a few friends or random strangers and ask them to give you their honest opinion. This will help you make improvements and changes accordingly.

A good way to do this is by creating a prototype or beta version of your app, and then showing it to someone who hasn’t been involved in the process. You can also ask if they’ll test it for a little while so you can see how they’re using it and what their experience is like. This helps you identify any issues that might not be apparent until the app is being used. In addition, make sure you take notes on what these testers say, whether it’s positive or negative; it all counts!

Once you’ve done this, revise accordingly based on the feedback you’ve received. If things need changing, don’t wait until later in development when they’ll cost more time and money; make them now! You’ll thank yourself later when users enjoy using your well-designed app!

Final Thoughts

The fact that you’re reading this article is a testament to your dedication. You could have coasted through the process of building an app for your business without giving much thought to design and UX, but you didn’t. You’re in it for the long haul.

There are a lot of mobile design best practices. From colour schemes to navigation, and layout, it can be overwhelming to know where to start. Just remember that the apps you use daily are the ones with intuitive designs that solve your problems in the simplest way possible.

Take lessons from these successful apps and put them into practice when designing your mobile app. At the end of the day, it will be up to you to decide how your app gets designed and how it will help users solve their pain points.

John Norwood
John Norwood is best known as a technology journalist, currently at Ziddu where he focuses on tech startups, companies, and products.