Mobile apps have changed the way how a user uses his smartphone, and at the same time, they have changed how companies handle their businesses too. We now use our smartphones for about anything as simple as ordering food from your local restaurants to opening your hotel room with your smartphone during your vacation in another country. And, they will work as your local guide in a country where you’re a stranger too. Thanks to mobile apps, you never have to visit or make phone calls with your local agents for booking arrangements, and you no longer a stranger on earth.
With this evolution and the transformation from the term, 'mobile phones' to ‘mobile devices', there is a sharp increase in user engagement day after a day, which demands more new apps that are innovative and competitive. Remember, it only takes 3 seconds for a user to decide if he or she wants to continue using the app. The underlying factor that influences the decision is; design of the app.
Okay, if you think it is your ingenuity and creativity of a mobile app design that wows user experience, then you’re mistaken because every design needs a thorough thought behind the purpose it serves - if you will.
So, what exactly is a perfect Design?
A good app’s design is that it has given thorough thought on two of the most important elements that unify the optimal usability and user engagement are the User Interface (UI) and the User Experience (UX). When these two go arm in arm, the app starts to stand out. Even though UI & UX work together to achieve the same goal, they are different conceptually and in execution. Here, some of our design tips directly target the UI and others target UX. For example, ever happened, a well-designed, astonishing Sign-Up form that you left half-way not completing because it requested too many entries? A simple example UI & UX didn’t go well to engage a user - great design is the combination of both beauty (UI) and the functionality (UX).
Before we dive into the subject, it is suggested that you grasp adequate knowledge. As a newbie or a beginner in the app design world, you might want to explore plenty of online services and sites that provide design mockups, prototyping and wireframing tools with paid subscriptions or free, if you would Google a bit.
Here are a few design tips that will get you started on the right track.
First things first. Mobile apps are used on the go, often. When you design your visual elements, keep in mind that you’re designing the UI for a very small screen that is easily susceptible to sunlight glare and other obstacles. So, you don’t have all the freedom that you would enjoy when designing for a desktop.
1. App design is not web design.
Mobile apps design is not the same as web design. The goal should be creating a more streamlined and positive user experience through a goal-driven design and not a piece of fine-art. Remember to apply, ‘less is more’ principles when working with an app design; cut out the clutter and keep it simple, clean and clear.
2. UX, your ultimate goal.
No matter how much of money, hard work, and hours you invest in your app, they all will be in vain if your app doesn’t meet the bottom line expected from it; user engagement! Look through your end-users' eyes and test how engaging the app is and tweak as required to achieve that near-perfect UX. Check below as we discuss this point under Iterative Design testing.
Just as we discussed UI & UX, an app’s or website’s navigational structure is designed sticking with its chosen IA or Information Architecture, which is also a part of UX. IA defines what content goes where and the navigation throughout the app. So, without an IA, the app can easily get messy and confusing as it won’t have the unified navigation for users, affecting UX.
As a business owner or the app publisher, always keep an eye on user engagement and retention. Depending on the type of the app, user engagement and retention will vary. Use different tactics to keep your users engaged with your business/app, use push-notifications, promotions, surveys, and two-way communications periodically.
3. Get your typography right.
Typography plays a vital role in many aspects, including setting the overall tone of your app, user mood, and brand quality. Choosing the right typography is not just about delivering the information to the users, but it conveys and compliments your overall design. When you’ve chosen the right font, size, colors, and consistent throughout the app, you are half-way set to achieve better UX.
· Always pay attention to readability, size, versatility, and color.
· Font style tells about your brand, and sometimes what it does and the mood. You don’t use the same fonts on wedding invitations and the ‘wanted’ posters, do you? Because font styles set moods. Unless you have a brand font or a valid reason, use mood-less fonts such as Helvetica, Roboto, etc., widely as possible, and use the special ones in headlines only when it requires since there is no established rule to say which style to use for what mood, if user mood is your concern within a specific context.
· Use built-in font styles wherever possible as they keep the content visually distinct while retaining legibility. Plus, the system fonts automatically adjust the tracking and leading for any font size.
· Leading is the space between the lines, also called line space. Keep them not too short or tall so that users won’t feel the text is tightened up or extra space between the lines.
· Line length goes with the font size. It is not recommended to squeeze in more than 40 characters in a line.
· Tracking or letter spacing is the space in-between each letter. Keep a decent spacing, so the words don’t look clogged.
· Avoid using the tiny font size. For body text, Apple recommends using 17pt of its system font, San Francisco, and New York. Google’s preference is 16pt based on its Roboto font. For other typefaces, the size can look vary depending on the styles but keep a ratio based on their recommendations. For headlines, use the size that contrasts with the body, and better not to go for more than 2 – 3 lines.
· Color contrast is the combination of the foreground and background colors of the text area. For instance, black and monochrome grey are the classic colors for fonts, and grey being lighter would look good for the eyes. Suppose you’re working on pink background, adding a little bit of pink to the grey font color, makes a good contrast even more paired. Give special attention to texts placed on images.
4. Soft elements, smooth edges and choice of colors.
Design trends are constantly changing, quite often, there is a ‘hottest trend’ that comes out. There is no harm in trying out something new if the app serves the main purpose, accessibility, usefulness, and user acceptance. But, remember, our target should be to stand out in the crowd with the design. So, these little details do matter in that sense:
· Use shadows and gradients because they help your UI look alive as they give a visual hierarchy. However, give shadows a little blurred lightweight look, rather than leaving them to look high in contrast.
· Maintain consistency in fonts, colors, use of icon colors or outlines, never change colors of the same UI element type unless there is a real necessity.
· Sharp edges (no border-radius) give a serious look while rounded corners give the feeling of less serious.
· It must be emphasized that the color scheme dominates on top of the list in any design. When deciding the right color scheme, it can go one of two ways: 1. Traditional color schemes 2. Custom color scheme. As beginners, picking a traditional color scheme would be a perfect bet against going in for a custom color scheme. Since it’s a huge subject to fit into this post, you can do some research on Color Schemes and choose the best.
· Visual weights: anticipate a user’s needs rather than their reaction. Now, what does this mean? To simplify with an example, in a registration page, ‘Register’ button stands out because users are on that page to register as their primary goal.
5. No logo, no brand. When you stand out, it’s the logo that speaks for your brand.
If you’re a running business adapting to mobile apps, this section might be irrelevant. Otherwise, remember that a well-designed logo influences users to investigate the app features further. As a note, a logo consists of an emblem in it. Most businesses use these emblems part of the logo in their apps. Look at this Starbucks sample:
6. Help users not to get lost within the app – Be consistent.
Your app design must show consistency visually or functionally. It might have several pages, but its UI should look the same on every page. Of course, different platforms can't have the same UI, but that's okay to differ between the platforms like iOS and Android.
7. Be ‘Responsive’ to cater any size.
The sheer number of different screen sizes, especially on the Android side ranging from tiny watches to massive smart TVs, is mind-boggling. Even Apple devices are getting fragmented gradually. What makes sure your app looks fantastic on every single device? The responsive design comes to rescue here. Make sure your design is as flexible and fluid as possible with specifying widths as percentages, so they're flexible and adjusts the widths as relative to their parent UI elements.
Additionally, you may also use different screen size templates such as phones, tablets, and desktops as breakpoints, and design the UI for each template and optimize to be perfect.
8. Interaction design reduces user confusion.
“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like Design is how it works.” - Steve Jobs.
The relationship between a user and the device is that the user’s input and the devices respond to the input. Give feedback to users on what’s going on in the app, so it doesn’t leave users confused and frustrated with not knowing what is going to happen next. For instance, showing an infinite spinner on a slow-loading content can help users know that the content is loading rather than leaving them in doubtful situations.
9. Iterative design – test, fix, test again.
There is no UI that has zero usability issues in one go. Even the well-recognized UI experts don't design a perfect interface once. The usability engineering lifecycle must undergo an iterative testing process to see the best results. To simplify, it is like, a) Test to find issues b) fix it, c) go through next iteration to ensure the fix and find for new issues, d) repeat it.
10. Don't drain the battery
A battery-heavy mobile app is an ultimate UX killer despite that Facebook, WhatsApp, Google, and the like top the drainer - the power of user engagement. Even though devices carry many features such as network consumption, processing, background tasks, and various sensors, there is one that stands out is the display. Avoid including features that keep the display awake, and unnecessary use of 3D graphics. Also, database queries and network chatters are other contenders, capable of draining battery life faster.
Having said, when battery consumption is linked to the part of an app’s core design, give a balanced thought on prioritizing one against the other, and sacrifice some, not so important features that are capable of draining batteries.
To be continued.
Before we wrap up with this part, here, we discussed some of the important mobile app design considerations. And, there are equally important topics that we cover in the 2nd part of this post, that is coming up. So, stay tuned!