The design of a mobile app is just as important as, and closely linked to, the business strategy; an expression, one may say, of the strategy. In a world flooded with apps – competing and otherwise – it is the threshold that a user must cross to become your customer. Forrester, a market research firm, estimates that there were 3 billion smartphone users by the end of 2018.
This translates to a huge market potential for mobile application development and those who are trying to find a solution for many pain points through technology. Not only can customers order and track products and services through apps, but can also monitor their health, indulge in interests and hobbies, remain connected even when travelling, play games, upgrade skills and more.
In 2018, nearly 61.2% of the global mobile phone population accessed the internet from their mobile phones, spending on average 69% of their media time on them, according to market research reports. Of this, 50% of the media time was spent on mobile applications, the market for which is expected to touch $165 billion by the end of 2023, at an estimated CAGR of 14% from 2017 to 2023.
Catching the eye
One research indicates that 6,140 mobile apps were released on an average through the Google Play Store every day between the third quarter of 2016 and the first quarter of 2018. With so much competition, not only from competing apps addressing the same aspect of life, but others too vying for attention, app developers have a Herculean task of keeping users interested. Amongst other things, user interface (UI) design and compatibility play a very key part and a poor design is considered among the top 11 reasons for losing customers.
Getting your design – or the UI design – right is very important. It begins by understanding the intended target customer, and therefore is tightly integrated with your business strategy. Not only should it look attractive but also be able to influence the tasks they can perform on the app – be it reading content, initiating a transaction, playing, etc. While content is the king, the UI design ensures that the former is used as intended. An intuitive design that is easy to comprehend and use is a key reason for building customer loyalty. The important elements would include color, font, and layout. The age group and gender along with readability will determine how these elements are used. They need to be built on an underlying principle that drives the entire design endeavour and should take into cognisance the following.
- Ease of use: However great your interface may appear, it needs clear and consistent models built on UI architecture to help users recognize patterns for effective use. Features that are similar or connected should be together while dissimilar ones, separate.
- Keep it simple: The UI design should be simple, tasks easy to identify and act on, communication lucid, and presented such that users can understand. Meaningful shortcuts where possible for longer procedures will help – remember that most users are using it to achieve a purpose and the design should facilitate that.
- Make tasks visible: Keep the purpose of the app a priority and make it easy for customers to reach the actionable tasks easily by making them visible without burdening the customer with unnecessary information. Do not clutter the page with too many design elements.
- Maintain flexibility: Keep the UI design flexible and easy to change. Rigid designs can make any change costly and hard, increasing the chances of errors.
- Introduce reusability: Reuse of internal and external components and behaviours consistent with the purpose would increase the level of intuitiveness and ease of use. This can make navigation easy.
- Ensure compatibility: What looks right in one screen may not be apt for another. Designers engaged in mobile application development should first be aware of the requirements established by the different OS, and the implication of screen sizes on the apps, and design accordingly. This should then be tested on various popular mobile phones to make sure the app looks the way it is meant to. Broken links, missing images or poor resolution are a sure-fire way to lose customers. Here, it is important to mention the attention designers need to pay to the landscape mode. Treat it like yet another screen size to design for.
Making it inclusive
Users may be anywhere, use any device, and have any number of physiological, environmental or infrastructure related challenges. When designing the interface, keep in mind the following four factors:
- Visual impact, determined by shapes, colours, fonts and the sizes as well as graphic elements.
- Aural experience based on the use of media, its volume and clarity.
- Cognitive experience based on how simple it is to learn, understand and use.
- Interactivity, that determines the kind of gestures required to be used by your app
Taking cognisance of the challenges faced by the differently abled as well as differently equipped (mobiles of lower configurations, for instance), and designing to cater to them will expand the user base. It has been found that inclusive designs not only benefit those with challenges but every user since they are based on fundamentally sound principles. The UI design for mobile apps needs as much thought and care as the design of any product – it needs to be alluring, aesthetic and functional. Not an easy task, given how subjective it can be, but essential all the same and achievable when the architecture is structured right.