Our world is becoming increasingly mobile, as evidenced by the nearly 180 billion apps downloaded in 2015. What this means is that when your business decides to enter the mobile app foray, you’ll need to know exactly what you’re looking for in terms of design, or else your app will fall almost immediately to the wayside.
After all, a quarter of all apps are used only once in the first six months after download. But why? Do many apps simply look bad? Are they not as functional as they claim to be? Or is it something else?
We decided to sit down with our product designer, Maroun Najjar, to answer some of these questions and get some of his insight into the world of mobile app design.
NP: If you had to name the three most important aspects of designing a mobile app what would they be?
MN: 1. Focus
Mobile is all about the age of one main feature within an app. If you think of Uber, Uber does one thing, it gets you from point A to point B. That’s the only thing it does. It's got a bunch of supporting features like split fare and share your location, but it’s really just one thing. You have to answer what is the main problem that your app solves, doing that really great, and having features that support it.2. Encourage Behavior Change
For fitness apps specifically, the way that you make a product encourage behavior change comes in a couple of ways. One is you want to celebrate a user’s successes. Let’s say it’s a running app and I just ran 5 miles, which I’d never done before, you want to have a very celebratory emotional experience that kind of high-fives the user and celebrates the fact that they did that. And when someone fails at something that’s a point where they can suddenly drop out of whatever your app is having them do. So you always want to sort of pat them on the back, tell them it’s okay and encourage them to show up to your app again. So it's really thinking about how you can make your app a behavior change-centric product.3. Give Before You Take
An example of that would be if I’m opening the Uber app. Instead of asking me for my name, my profile picture and all those things, have me request a ride first and show me what it’s like to go through from point A to B via Uber, then start to ask me for those little things. Instead of asking the user for a bunch up front before giving them anything, try and give them value as quickly as possible.
NP: When designing a mobile app, what’s your main focus concern?
MN: Does this make sense? Is this focused enough? Am I confusing the user? A lot of it is about reducing the options you give them to reduce decision fatigue. When I look at a screen, I should know very quickly what I need to do and how I need to go to the next place. And that’s a very difficult problem; simplifying your product to the point where it’s very focused but it’s not dumb. So for me, when I’m designing a new feature I’ll put in all the functionality and then I’ll start the process of elimination. What can I do at a later stage of the process? What can I remove from the screen to make it more intentional with what the user is trying to do?
NP: What’s more important when designing a mobile app, functionality or user experience?
MN: I see those as very similar. I try to work on both of those at the same time. If I had to pick one, it’s all about the functionality. Your app needs to do whatever it advertises that it does very well. I think in the process of making it do that, you can make the experience emotional and very fun -- sort of target the way a user would feel when using your app and tailor the design and aesthetics to it. But at the end of the day, you can have the prettiest app in the world, but if nobody knows how to use it, it’s not useful and they’re gonna drop off. So it’s all about functionality, making sure you have that nailed down, and after that you can boost the aesthetics and all that stuff.
NP: What are some of the biggest mistakes you’ve seen people make when it comes to designing mobile apps?
MN: I think the biggest mistake we see in app design today is going for gorgeous aesthetics and trying to push the barrier on transitions, animations and stuff without ever watching someone use an app. When you design an app for the sake of making something beautiful and you don’t user test it, you sacrifice so much functionality that yeah, it’s gorgeous and someone’s gonna play with your app for five seconds and notice the beauty of it, but if they can’t accomplish what they wanna do, they’re gonna drop it.
The biggest issue is people not user testing their apps before they launch them or even write a line of code. In this day and age we have so many tools that allow you to take the screens you’re designing and build a prototype within minutes. All you have to do is take it to 1 to 5 people, watch them use it and ask them to think out loud as they use it. This reveals a world of information in terms of how to make your app more usable.
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