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5 main things to remember when designing mobile apps

The phrase “there’s an app for that” is not just a joke anymore. Mobile apps have become common property and most companies got their own app.

But the market is ever expanding and the risk of your app getting lost in the overcrowded market is very high. One way to avoid this heightens the user experience by differentiating between web design and mobile design.

To help you get into mobile-thinking we will share five main things to remember when designing mobile apps.

1. Don’t Make Me Think – When I Use My Mobile

You cannot complete the task of making good usability before you have read Steve Krug’s’ “Don’t Make Me Think”. Okay, we may be exaggerating here but this true classic in web design is an essential and highly relevant to mobile designers as well.

Krug’s main goal is to make web and mobile design intuitive. This means that all icons, text content and gestures are self-explanatory and won’t make the user second guess their functionalities. When it comes to mobile apps he points out that it needs to be delightful, intuitive and memorable in order to survive on the ever-expanding market.

This book is full of simple tips and tricks that every UX and UI designer should always keep in mind to strengthen the usability.

2. Mobile First, Desktop Second

Desktop got kicked off the throne a while back, today the mobile is the dominant digital platform. This means that you ought to be thinking mobile first and desktop second when designing. When approaching the design phase with mobile in mind you are forcing us to strip down to essentials as Luke Wroblewski says.

Prioritizing your mobile design automatically generate a better user experience because all irrelevant content is left out simply because there is no room for it. This does not mean that you cannot create a detailed app or that everything should be super simple, but it invokes that you focus on the necessary.

3. Think About Conventions

People use more time using other apps than yours. That’s a fact unless you’re Mark Zuckerberg. Therefore, it is a good idea to stick to the conventions and standards established by all the great apps out there. Conventions are design norms or rules that guide the user such as having a navigation bar on the top of the screen on an iPhone.

There are several different conventions to consider when designing for Android and iOS. You will have to understand their differences to make the app developers work as lean as possible. There has been a lack of guidelines regarding Android design but Google fixed this with the launch of Material Design.

A mix of experience and guidelines to these conventions has made the process of designing for multiple platforms more efficient and smooth. On the downside, conventions can seem to kill innovation if you use them wrong. They should be used as structural design elements that bring your content in the center of the design and support your app flow.

4. Onboard The User

Unfortunately, people have a tendency to download an app, try it and then never take a glimpse of it again. This often happens when people feel frustration or cannot figure out how to use the app. The onboarding stage is thus the most critical moment for determining whether the user is engaging to the product or not, but sadly this stage is often overlooked. A great example of poor onboarding UX is Samuel Hulick’s teardown of Apple Music.

Offering an easy sign-up flow and/or a fast walkthrough of the app for first-time users, you will contribute to a seamless start and secure the usefulness of the app. The walkthrough should only be necessary if you are dealing with a content heavy or tool based app though. Hence if the features are immediately obvious to the user, the walkthroughs become an obstacle.

5. Show Gestures

You have to take notice that using your fingers as a mouse gives more options than just a click. In mobile design, you have to think about tapping instead of clicking. This means that the good old hover-state is out of the picture, but luckily touch devices offer the user to perform gestures such as swiping and pinching which provides an abundance of new ways for interacting. Good usability embraces both the novice and the superuser, therefore, actions should intuitive for both users groups.

Again sticking to the conventions helps, but sometimes your app just has that unique feature that does not follow any standards. In those cases, you will have to be creative with nudging the users by adding simple hints or nice transitions.

Another must is to communicate these actions to the developers and the client because they are not visible in static wireframes. Therefore, annotating wireframes is a vital step in finishing your design. Both to communicate the value of your design to developers and to your client.

Final notes

Designing apps for mobile platforms give some different opportunities and restraints than designing for web design. You have to keep up with the evolution of UX and UI design techniques and conventions – nothing is set in stone and we are seeing them in constant motion.

Right now UI designers are feeling the pressure of Zero UI, AI and the internet of things because they are making the need for a visual interface less important.

This means they have to rethink their skills and tools to design based on the contextual behaviour of the users.

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