Mobile App Design 101: Everything You Need To Know

Mobile App Design 101: Everything You Need To Know

If you’re embarking on a mobile app design project, make sure you follow these best practices and trends for an app your users will love.

Mobile apps increase customer engagement and brand loyalty. However, the efficacy of an app largely depends on a positive user experience. Forty-six percent of people will stop using an app due to poor performance.

User experience, of course, hinges on mobile app design.

Design can make or break an app. Aesthetics are important, but so are a seamless experience and usability. Design can even help you guide users or customers towards the action you want them to take.

It’s vital you get mobile app design right. So, we put together this guide to equip you with the knowledge to do just that.

The Mobile App Design Process

Man goes through mobile app design prototypes

Creating an app is one of the biggest projects you’ll undertake as a business. Thus, we’d like to give you a brief overview of what the mobile app design process looks like.

It’s important for you to know the steps a good mobile app designer will take to help you achieve your goals.

Step 1: Design Discovery

In this phase, you and your designer discuss what you hope to achieve with your app and what the project will entail. 

The designer goes on to perform a competitive analysis. They look at your competitors’ apps and their pitfalls, and establish how to make your mobile application better than any other in your niche.

Furthermore, they establish user personas so that they can design an app with the user in mind. Through user research the designer gauges aspects such as user motivations and pain points.

Step 2: User Experience Design

Next, the designer determines how people will interact with your app and how they can meet their needs. One of the most important goals is to make the app easy to use and navigate.

This involves creating the following:

  • A feature map: A high-level breakdown of the app’s key features.
  • User flows: Charts and workflows that demonstrate the user journey.
  • Wireframes: A basic layout of each screen and the overall structure of the app.
Illustration of app design process

Step 3: User Interface Design

Using your brand guidelines, the designer generates a few style concepts for the UI design. These will give you an idea of what the final visual design will look like.

Next, they create a style guide for the app that contains all of the main elements, e.g., fonts, colors, buttons, and so on.

Style guide for app design

Then they combine the wireframes and style guide to create a high-fidelity mockup. 

Screenshot of app design mockups

This is close to the final design. Of course, you can provide feedback and alterations will be made.

Step 4: Prototyping

Finally, the designer creates a high-fidelity clickable prototype. This gives you the chance to see both the visuals and UX in real time.

During the prototyping phase, you also have the opportunity to test the mobile application for yourselves or through further user research and testing. Again, you may wish to make alterations to the design.

Designing for Mobile vs. Desktop or Web

Developers looking at phone and wireframe printouts

There are some key differences between designing a mobile application and a desktop app or website. 

You need to bear these in mind as they impact usability. Get them wrong and users may get frustrated and abandon your app.

Here are the key differences between mobile app, desktop app, and web design:

  • Screen size: Mobile has a smaller screen. Thus, you can only include the most important text and elements.
  • Screen orientation: Mobile users mostly use a vertical screen orientation, while desktop is horizontal. This affects the order in which you place elements.
  • Input and navigation: Desktop users input information via a mouse or keyboard. Mobile users must tap the screen. Thus, icons, menus, and other design elements must be an easy-to-use, tappable size.
  • Usage environment: Mobile users can interact with apps anywhere, even while on-the-go. Design elements must therefore be clear and simple, so users can interact with the app quickly.

iOS vs. Android Design

Man laughs and looks at phone

Many ponder whether to build a native app for Android or Apple iOS.

Android has a 71% market share — much larger than iOS (~28%). But, to ignore iOS would be to ignore a third of the market.

So, the best option is to create an app for both platforms. However, the code for a native app doesn’t work on both operating systems. 

Plus, iOS and Android users are accustomed to different app features. 

For example, Android navigation menus tend to open on the left of the screen, while iPhone or iPad apps tend to have a navigation bar running along the bottom of the screen.

Furthermore, each operating system has distinctive styles that users are familiar with. Icons, typography, buttons, and the like appear differently on iOS and Android.

Hence, the visual design of the app impacts user experience. Try to carry Android styles and features across to iOS and users would be lost.

Be mindful of the differences in design to create the most user-friendly app for all mobile devices.

Mobile App Design Best Practices

Mobile app designers working together

With a strong understanding of mobile app design practices, you can fully participate in the design of your app and the app development process. 

When you understand what works and what doesn’t, you’ll be able to make smart decisions and increase the likelihood that your app is a great success.

1. Keep Cognitive Load and Data Input To a Minimum

Follow the good old design maxim of K.I.S.S (Keep it Simple, Stupid). In other words, don’t overwhelm users with too much information or too many functions.

Also, keep interactions quick and simple. For example, reduce the number of fields in forms, help users out with autocorrect or dropdown menus, and only ask for one or two interactions per screen.

Three screenshots of a mobile app design

2. Let the User Have Control

Users should fully understand what will happen when they tap on an icon or button. For this reason, you should use visual elements that clearly represent the function they’re connected to.

Furthermore, make error messages as informative as possible. This means that users know what to do to resolve an issue or what to do next if something goes awry. 

3. Make Navigation Clear

Create a logical information structure so that users can get around your app easily. Make it clear to the user where they are and how to return to previous screens, with useful headers and highly visible back buttons for example. 

Amazon app screenshot

Over time, you may wish to employ user testing and monitoring to adjust app navigation. Make it so that the most frequented destinations and paths require the fewest taps.

4. Onboard Users

Retaining app users is tough. The average retention rate on day one is 24.1%, by day seven this drops to 8.1%, and the numbers only decrease from there.

So, it’s vital you make a positive first impression. Throughout the design process, keep an eye out for any points of friction that may cause users to drop off. 

Also, as part of the onboarding process, give new users a demo or tour of the app when they install it or sign up. Point out the key functionalities and navigation. Helping them get started is the first obstacle.

App screenshot next to exercise bike

5. Remember the Bigger Picture

Naturally, you need to ensure app visuals align with your branding. Imagine if Coca-Cola strayed away from red one day. It would leave a lot of people confused.

But, you also need to consider the fact that there are many touch points between you and a customer or audience member these days. 

Thus, you should make sure the design and content of your app mirror other channels, e.g., your website or social media.

6. Optimize Images, Video, and Text for Mobile

Today’s HD mobile devices require high-quality images. So, make sure you use high-res images that don’t appear pixelated in HD. You also need to get the aspect ratio right so that images don’t appear stretched out on mobile.

Because of the way people play videos on their phones, all video content must be optimized for portrait mode.

When it comes to text, readability is key. Choose an easy-to-read font that stands out against the screen’s background.

7. Design for Touch

You must make it easy for users to navigate your app and perform actions by tapping elements. 

A good rule of thumb is to make buttons approximately 10mm, given the average size of a person’s fingertips. Also, make sure there’s enough space between buttons to avoid mistaken taps.

Finally, it’s a good idea to place elements that users interact with frequently in easy-to-reach areas. Think about the way users hold their phones.

7 Mobile App Design Trends

Person touches circle graph on their app

We’re also keen to share with you what has been hot in the world of mobile app design in the past year. Let these trends serve as inspiration for your own design.

  1. Swipe animations: Swiping became much more interesting and engaging through the addition of animations.
  2. Dark themes: UX designers helped protect the eyes of users that are usually glued to their phones with low-light themes.
  3. Soothing visuals:Tranquil colors and images eased eye strain.
  4. Custom illustrations: Forget stock images, you saw more examples of custom graphic design.
  5. Rounded shapes:Professional designers took away sharp angles to create more fluid, borderless designs.
  6. Unique data visualizations: The graphs and charts that are a huge part of so many apps got way more creative.
  7. AR and VR: Immersive experiences within apps continued to grow.

Final Word

If you’re running a startup, a mobile app might be at the center of your business. Or perhaps an app will be another critical channel for your e-commerce store. Either way, creating an app could be enormously beneficial.

But, this is only the case if the app is well-designed. The biggest takeaway here is that the user should always be at the front of your mind when designing a mobile app.

Find this post useful? Then you’re bound to be interested in our guide on the similarities and differences between product and UX design.

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