Brilliant app concepts count for very little if graphic designers botch up the interface of the application. If you browse through the 1.3 million+ apps at iTunes and Play Store, you will come across many applications which are difficult to even understand, let alone using them. A simple rule of thumb needs to be followed – mobile app designing should always be about facilitating app-usage, and never about the designers/animators showing off their professional skills. In the first AppBoard Tuesday of 2015 (by the way, HAPPY NEW Year, everybody), we will highlight some key do’s and don’t’s of designing iPhone/Android applications:
Mobile App Design DOs:
- Think from the user’s perspective - There are two ways of conceptualizing how the screens/interface of an app should be designed. The first is the one which would be easy for the UI/UX designers at your mobile app company, while the other is the one which focuses on user-convenience. The latter should be the one you focus on. Remember, the success of an application is not determined by how easily it can be designed, but whether it is finally deemed to be user-friendly (easy-to-understand menu bars, smooth in-app page navigation, etc.). Put ‘designer needs’ in the back-burner, and let ‘user needs’ take centerstage.
- Factor in virtual keyboards – An otherwise good-looking app screen can appear messy and cluttered as soon as users call up the virtual keyboard (e.g., to provide text inputs) on it. In fact, this is often one of the reasons why many promising new mobile apps for kids fail every quarter. During the app testing phase, you need to check every screen of the app, with the keyboard displayed on it. Do not just assume anything about user-behavior, you are more than likely to be proved wrong!
- Be logical in choosing app designs – ‘It looks good’ is never a good enough reason for choosing any particular layout/design theme for an app. Most mobile app development companies, while providing online free app quotes, request users to share preliminary layouts, and provide a brief summary of what the application would be all about. Use this data while designing the concerned app (i.e., the mobile app design chosen should be relevant to its genre/type/specific features). And yes, if that means sacrificing some of your creativity, so be it.
- Keep the platform and the device in mind – Gone are the days when you could create an iPhone app and be done with it. Given the overwhelmingly larger market share that Android enjoys, cross-platform mobile app development and designing are skills you need to muster. In addition, keep track of all the new and popular mobile devices on which the app would be used, and optimize the design layouts accordingly. The last thing you want is anyone complaining that your new app is not properly viewable on his/her device.
- Remember the importance of reiteration – Contrary to what many mobile app developers believe, making apps is NOT a one-shot game. You need to implement the preliminary design elements, test the app, make changes (if necessary), iterate the entire app testing procedure, and so on (this chain should continue until all design flaws have been ironed out). Do not rely only on automated testing, and get feedback from human testers (ideally, form a focus group). The more the number of app reiterations you do, the less you would have to worry during the final mobile app testing phase.
- Use icons cleverly - New developers make the mistake of pushing in as many words as possible on the, relatively speaking, small app screens. Using icons in place of words would be a much smarter strategy. For starters, you would save a significant amount of space (a nice and clear icon would take up a lot less space than even a 3-letter word) – and as we know, keeping app screens uncluttered is of essence. What’s more, app icons, over time, help in marketing/branding purposes. When chosen and used properly, the icon can become the ‘symbol’ of a mobile application…at times a repeated icon can be more identifiable to users than even an app’s name.
- Refer to available app design tutorials and guidelines – Thanks to the emergence of so many online mobile app development forums and communities, there is no paucity of app design tutorials and case studies. Make use of such open source resources as much as possible (without, of course, stooping to the level of full-on copying!). Share your app design ideas with peers, and learn from their successful (and failed) projects. While designing an Android or iOS app, you might overlook a design mistake – but the same can get easily spotted if there are other professionals taking a look at your work.
(Note: Make sure that no one else can ‘steal’ your app ideas/concepts/designs though. Be careful about copyrights and intellectual property rights).
Mobile App Design DONT’s:
- Not considering the profile of the target audience – Mobile app designing not something you do ‘on the app screens’, it is something that has to augment user-convenience. An iPhone app for kids, for instance, should have automatic page turning features, text-highlighting options, and bright, colorful illustrations. On the other hand, for a personal finance-related app (most of the users of which would be 30+ in age), the texts, icons and checkboxes need to be relatively large (for proper viewability). Think about the type of layout that the final users of the app would prefer, and proceed accordingly.
- Making things complicated – There is a general rule that ecommerce websites and most mobile apps share – a maximum of 3 clicks/taps should take users to the page/screen that they are looking for. Just because you can create unique and snazzy app design themes does not mean you should do it – since such ‘new’ and ‘complicated’ designs might totally confuse final-users. In case your app links to other web resources, put links at appropriate places – instead of cramming in all the text in the app screen. Your clients might not get the chance to know your full expertise, but they will certainly be delighted with your simple, user-friendly app. Remember the catchphrase, ‘Less Is More’?
- Considering mobile screens as miniature computers - Well, they are not. A mobile app can never be the extension of a mobile website (even if your web application is hugely successful). While incorporating the designs of a smartphone app, you need to focus more on gestures, and less on viewing time on single screens. Researches have shown that the interaction time of users with mobile applications is, on average, significantly lower than that with web apps. App designing should always start from scratch – trying to make a smaller version of a website will simply not work.
- Displaying the splash screen for too long - For all the colors and images that you include in the splash screen of an app, remember that it is a static page, and should never be displayed for more than 5-7 seconds (for certain exceptions, the duration can be 10 seconds). While testing the app, ensure that the ‘default.png’ file(s) are getting properly loaded on the splash screen. Let’s put it this way – the splash screen is something that the user sees as the app loads on his/her handset. No one is interested in staring at it for minutes!
- Making the app a riot of colors - Definitely not a smart idea. If the app screens look like a veritable rainbow (!), rest assured that people would not like your app. Any professional graphic designer worth his/her salt would know how gradients and textures should be used so that the screens look nice and lively, without coming across as too frivolous. Consistency is the name of the game here. The text color has to be chosen in such a way that it stands out against the background. There are plenty of alternatives available, and there is no reason to assume people would strain their eyes to read the text on your app screens.
- Being too innovative for your own good - Always keep in mind, anyone can download the app you have designed. While there might be mobile app addicts who would soon grasp the navigation features and displays you have included, there can also be first-time users who would find the controls and features of the application as too difficult. Do some advance research about the types of app designs that work well at the stores, and create a variant of the themes that have already been tried-and-tested. If your mobile app designs are too innovative, there is every chance that it would be perceived as ‘experimental’ and not quite worth it.
- Including buttons that are too small - There are lots of images and illustrations in your app, and you need to manage the screen space properly. Many app designers make the folly of including buttons that are not of the optimal size (read: too small), to save some space. You need to make sure that the buttons present on the screens of the app should be such that, users with comparatively thicker thumbs/fingers have no troubles in tapping them. Trying to tap an app button, and failing repeatedly, can be a major irritation.
The first thing any good mobile app company should do is recruit and train a separate in-house team of graphic designers and animators – who would work in collaboration with the developers/coders. In an earlier post, we had highlighted that app developers cannot double up as designers themselves. The secret to creating efficient, engaging, apt and attractive mobile app designs is to keep things simple. Ironically, that is the most difficult challenge for many designers!
And folks, that’s that for this week’s edition of AppBoard Tuesday (ABT). If you have a tip for mobile app designing to share, simply put it in the comments section – and we might include it in our list (we love to keep learning!). Wish to see any other specific topic related to mobile app development? Let us know, and we’ll be only too happy to cover your topic of interest in a future edition of our newsletter.
ABT will return with another interesting discussion on…you guessed it…next Tuesday. Till then, stay well, and love thy apps!
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