Great design and a great experience are supremely important when it comes to mobile app development. No matter how great that underlying functionality is, if it isn’t obvious to a person how the app works, how they get to what they want, then your app will die lonely and unused. People expect the hurdle to entry to be incredibly low; if they can’t open the app and know what to do within seconds of it starting, it will be closed down at best and at worse uninstalled.
Ask the important questions first
There are lots of questions you should be asking up front when you develop an app, and a number of these should be asked even before you start putting together your first wireframes and user flows.
You really want to take time up front to get into the user’s head and determine their objectives in using the app. Understand the needs you’re trying to facilitate without specifying the features required to meet those needs – leave transposing goals into features until later on, as doing so early can stifle ideas and lead you down a particular functional solution too soon.
Think about what the goals are in terms of real people. Using personas (a persona is a made up person that represents the motivations, frustrations etc. of one of your user groups) can assist in crystallising your understanding of a target audience and will help in communicating it to all involved in the project. Personas can also help you to focus on developing features that your customers will want rather than those YOU want. Always keep front of mind that you’re asking the question “Should this product be built” and not “Can this product be built” (a key question when using the lean startup methodology). Is this app/update/service really something that people want and is the business case for it viable going forward?
You have the green light – let’s make a great mobile experience
Once these questions are answered you can move on to dealing specifically with the mobile experience and making it the best it can be. This opens the door to a new batch of questions. For example:
- What is it you want to do/provide with your app?
- What goal does the a user want to achieve by using your app?
- Is it obvious on first opening the app?
- Is it designed in a way that gets the primary use front of shop?
- Are you in new territory or are you uniquely trying to meet a need that similar apps have not met?
- What will define a successful outcome for the user?
It’s important to keep in mind how different the experience is when using a mobile device compared to a PC. Many of the principles that work on a PC just don’t translate to a mobile. You’re dealing with different kinds of input and different real estate in terms of the screen size.
The different technology employed by mobile devices demands that you keep things simple and focused. Keeping necessary user input as minimal as possible is key, as no one likes a mountain of taps or a ton of typing if it isn’t integral to the job in hand. Keep in mind that the simpler your app is to use the easier it is to use on the move as well, which is a major context within which app usage occurs.
Beyond use on the go, you need to think about all the other ways in which mobiles are used as well, and the connotations that come attached with these:
- It’s a very personal device, so your app will exist squarely within the user’s personal space. This can have quite an effect on the relationship a person has with a product or service (when compared to interactions with it on a PC).
- The ‘always on, always within reach’ nature of a phone also means there are new opportunities to interact with users that weren’t available on PCs, so again the easier you can make it to interact with your app the better in order to work on those user impulses whenever, wherever they surface.
- Also bear in mind that although the mobile exists within a very personal space, it is very often used within a very public one, so always keep in mind that the user’s experience could be interrupted at any moment – design and develop your app to be disrupted mid flow, save progress for easy continuation at a later point and provide a straightforward way to undo items if that makes sense to your user flow too.
Not only are there the differences between PC and mobile, but also differences between one mobile platform and another, and even between handsets using the same platform. Look at your analytics and know the handsets that your customers are on – concentrate your efforts on these before expanding out. Know the processing power each one has and know the OS revisions you’re aiming at. You can then put your UX and UI effort into designing the app to be the very best it can be on each one.
Keep it simple, keep it consistent
In most cases you want to do as Apple say; keep it simple. Keep the app focused on a core objective/function. If there are a number of tasks that can be done via the app then at least make sure that the primary use is made the focus as part of your design approach.
Additionally keep the design and behaviour consistent. Follow Apple’s HIG and Android’s design guidelines for the common established behaviours, so that a person can take for granted the basic interactions and thus feel at home straight away. Where your app necessitates new and interesting ways of facilitating interaction make sure they are simple to understand and guidance is given (when absolutely necessary).
One of the most important things you can do is enable a person to build a clear mental model of how to navigate around your service. By making your app consistent and predictable you allow a user to quickly construct their own mental model of the app’s functionality, which will continue to inform their use of it going forward. Any deviation from the expected for a user can grate like hell.
I want you to tell all your friends about me…
Finally, encourage ownership in your app. On top of a great user experience, if you can strengthen that sense of ownership in your app, that is an additional way to boost continual use and viral advertising. Make sure you have those social hooks in there – allow people to share content with friends/colleagues, provide easy integration with other apps, and allow users to customise their experience where it makes sense. Allow them to spread the word about how amazing your mobile app really is.