Designing UI for a Mobile-First Experience
According to the latest data from AppBrain, there are about 1.13 million Android apps in the market today. The number is about 1 million for iPhone. Not surprisingly, only about 22% of the apps are considered quality apps. So what makes an app, a quality app? This is a question that every app developer is thinking about. How do you create an app that stands out? Here are a few design considerations that can help you differentiate your app and turn it from just being average to an extraordinary one.
Mobile First Design
As a lot of companies think about their Mobile strategy, the top question on their mind is how they can take their existing apps and deploy these apps for Mobile. On the other hand, if they are developing new apps, they try to come up with a one-size-fits-all design to work with Web and Mobile. There is nothing wrong in finding synergies in what we do across platforms. But keep in mind that the web and mobile platforms are fundamentally different with several subtleties specific to Mobile platform. So design for Mobile from scratch. You will spend some extra resources but the end user experience will be much better in the long term.
Keep it simple
Remember the golden rule “Less is More”? It truly applies to Mobile app design. Mobile screen space is limited and you cannot afford to fill it up with anything that is less than relevant. Images and iconography can help saving the space and conveying the right information. So use these as much as possible.
Design for Discoverability and Learnability
Most of the times, users are interacting with the app either to discover new information or do their tasks efficiently. With mobile, the emphasis on usability needs to be balanced with a focus on rapid learnability and discoverability. The app should allow new users to discover information and learn how to do things. Once they have learned their way around, it should help them do the tasks they are looking to do efficiently.
Identify your Users
Mobile users generally tend to fall into one of two categories: hunters or gatherers. Hunters are looking to find a specific piece of information or do a specific task quickly. Gatherers are more like traditional computer users and are looking to browse around or fill time collecting information from site to site and are less concerned about a specific outcome. Understand what your users are looking for and focus on features which enable them to achieve tasks in the smallest number of steps and minimize any functionality that does not help them. It might be possible to satisfy both but focusing on one, at least in the beginning, will deliver better results.
Too many choices- Good? Think Again
We as humans love choices. When thinking about apps, we want to give our users choices. But when it comes to Mobile apps, too many choices is not good. In fact its quite bad. It leads to poor decisions, delay in accomplishing tasks and customer dissatisfaction. A good design practice is to remove unnecessary choices. Collect data necessary to make intelligent decisions and present the right information but avoid unnecessary options. Remember choices, make assumptions, collect customer behavior data and iterate.
Design for Growth
Focus on a few key things during the first few iterations and get it right. If we apply long tail theory to product design, 80% of users will use 20% of features and remaining 20% will use 80% of the features. Determine what functionality is used most or what is the key pain point that application is trying to solve and put your resources behind making those more efficient. Then expand the feature set via further iterations.
Design for Mobile Context
Mobile as a platform is prone to interruption and mobility. Keep these factors in mind when designing your task related workflows. Break larger tasks down into smaller ones, save states often and put content throughout. Enable users to act quickly on time-sensitive information. Reduce clutter, reduce distractions, eliminate complex forms or typing. Define defaults that insightfully map to real user user behaviors.
Capture contextual data
One advantage that Mobile has over other platforms is that it is with a user all the time. At any time, there is more data and context than just the user interaction through the interface that can be captured. This data is a function of the user, the environment and established behavior patterns. This includes obvious things like sound and movement, but also more abstract concepts like location, proximity, environmental factors, social networks, and intent. Take advantage of this abstract data to learn about the context and apply it in making the decisions or presenting the right information.
Use task-based design
Mobile users want to accomplish tasks through their interactions with the app. These tasks can be broad like browsing news or specific like checking weather. Identify what they are trying to do and design every function of your app to help them complete their task in as few steps as possible. Discard everything else.
Native, Mobile Web or Hybrid Design
Native apps deliver the best experience on a particular platform with highest performance and the best access to the device APIs (phone, camera, GPS, address book, gyroscope, magnetometer, location-based services, maps, special transition effects, etc.). This typically translates to a stronger user engagement. Web apps on the other hand allow programs to be written once and deployed across multiple platforms differing in OS, user interface style, input mechanisms, display form factor, size, and resolution. Hybrid mobile apps attempt to strike a compromise between native and mobile web. Knowing your customers and what features are need should determine which design to go with.
Take advantage of platform UX as much as possible. Do not develop custom interfaces which do not work as per platform expectations will confuse users, slow down adoption, and put a significant obstacle in the way of engagement. Instead, take the principles of the OS-native interface kit, and subtly style your interface elements without altering the underlying functions.
Measure and Learn
Finally, once you have your Minimum Viable Product (MVP) out there, start measuring results against your KPIs, learn user behaviors and iterate. When getting feedback and prioritizing feature set for next release, rely on what your users actually do, rather than what they say.