So you’ve come up with a great idea for a new app. You have done your research, found a niche market and are convinced you’ll be adding value for your users. You’ve conquered some major battles. But with over one million apps in the App Store, you’re facing a big fight ahead to differentiate your product. This is where design comes in. You want to design your app so it looks different and grabs people’s attention but you also need to stay clued into common mobile patterns so new users find navigation intuitive, without forgetting to take advantage of new innovations (the introduction of force touch, for example). Striking this balance is easier said than done, which is what makes design hard. Here are 10 tips to simplify the process and help you nail an awesome app design.
- Focus on eliminating users’ work.
Mobile is all about being on the move. Chances are that your users will be using your app while multitasking or as a form of distraction. They are looking for simplicity. Give it to them. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer created a design rule for yahoo apps. The “two tap rule” is simple: once you’re in the app, if you’re more than two taps away from doing anything you might want to do, you need to simplify. As you design your app, always aim to reduce the amount of thinking users will have to put in in order for the app to make sense.
- Design must be goal-driven.
Design must follow function, especially when you’re designing for smaller mobile screens. All aspects of your design should be about better connecting your users to the product. For instance, your UI design needs to ensure that every time your app prompts a user with a request for input, the user is provided all information they’ll need to make a decision about their action. Don’t forget that design is not just about looking awesome, it is about making the user experience awesome and that means clarity is king.
- Make it thumb-friendly.
Most people hold their smartphones one of three ways. They either use a single hand and navigate with their thumb, use two hands and two thumbs, or hold the phone in one hand and use their opposite index finger. Some people touch with the tip of the finger, others with the whole finger pad. It’s impossible to pinpoint exactly how many pixels should be dedicated to making your buttons clickable, but apple recommends making your touch targets 44 pixels by 44 pixels. This measurement doesn’t need to serve as a cardinal rule, but keep in mind that a finger is much larger than a computer mouse and you need to design your touch targets accordingly.
- Give users feedback.
Don’t let your users forget about you while a function loads. Make that time interesting and get rid of blank screens. When a user swipes, taps, or clicks, there should be an immediate response. If something is going to take awhile to load, show the user their loading progress so they know they’re getting somewhere (and fast). Alternatively, you can have an animation that keeps them engaged by adding some extra entertainment. Either way, make sure every user interaction gets a response.
- Do not overcrowd your screen.
Just because smaller pixels are available does not mean you should shrink the font and cram more in. More does not mean better. This gets back to function: know your core aims, stick to them, and reduce frill. Always view your app on the actual device you’re designing it for to make sure that all critical elements are very easy to see. Text size should be at least 11 points, you should have ample spacing between letters and lines, and you should never have to zoom in to clarify any action buttons or information essential to the product.
- Use gestures wisely.
Gestures help you keep clutter to a minimum, come intuitively to the veteran smartphone user, and make the user experience more fun. Study popular interfaces and common UI patterns so you know what gestures make your target users feel at home. The gestures a millennial audience is familiar with are going to differ than those of target audiences that are novices in the smartphone game. When weighing what gestures to use, think about your audience, know your product, and choose the gesture or gestures that make the most sense for your app.
- Use high-resolution images.
The number of screen resolutions available for mobile devices continues to expand. Always start by designing for retina, high-resolution and pixel dense screens and then scale down accordingly. Better yet, use vector based images that will scale to any screen size and ensure that you always have beautiful and crisp images.
- Keep it consistent.
If you’re changing your color or font from one screen or paragraph to the next, have a good reason. Color is a powerful organization tool: it helps you direct users’ attention and establish a visual hierarchy. For instance, if you present your user with three buttons to choose from, the first being bright orange, the second a softer orange, and the third a light peach, you’re signaling that the first choice is the most extreme option while the last is the most temperate. Too many color or font changes will dilute the impact of any one transition and confuse the user. So, make few changes and be sure those changes pack a lot of punch in terms of visual and organizational impact.
- Place action buttons appropriately.
If you haven’t noticed already, everything in a good design comes back to user experience. The same goes here: make clicking as easy as possible. Especially for users who tap with their thumbs, the bottom half of their screen is more accessible. Put general action buttons there, while making sure that controls that pertain to specific content are located very near to that content.
10. Create order with alignment.
This may be the simplest tip of the bunch, but it deserves mention because strong alignment choices will transform your app design. Alignment is about creating visual appeal, organization, and helping your user make connections across your app. When you’re formatting content, think about how your text and images relate to one another and then use alignment as a tool to show those relationships to your users. Use a well-designed grid to help you define your layout, create order, and help control the way your user makes connections in thinking about your product.
It can be a long road from app conception to having a design you’re excited about, and an even longer road until your design is functional, appealing, and intuitive to both the experienced and novice user. With these tips, you’ll be well on your way. When in doubt, the good news is that there’s help. In the past few years, elite networks of freelance designers have emerged, making it easier than ever to hire expert design talent with a fast turnaround and reasonable costs. This blog was written by James Richman. Much of what James writes about is based on his own personal experiences being a CEO and Co-Founder of technology an design resource 1stWebDesigner.