If you take a look at some of the successful mobile applications on the market it quickly becomes apparent that there is no universal formula for designing an effective user interface for mobile apps. With that being said, there are several themes that tend to run through well-created and well-received mobile user interfaces.
Often designers will approach a project without taking best practices into account when designing their user interface (UI) and generally the success of the app suffers from this approach. While there are many things that go into quality UI Design, there are some simple ideas that are often overlooked that can help designers improve their app’s user interface.
These are presented below to help you improve the user interface on your next mobile app.
Create a visual hierarchy
One of the most often overlooked principles of user interface design is creating an effective visual hierarchy. According to Wikipedia, a visual hierarchy is an “arrangement or presentation of elements in a way that implies importance”. When you approach your next UI design project, make sure you design significance into the information on your interface so that users will know how to interact with it.
Carefully consider what the most important thing you want to show to your users is and then work through and create a list of priorities. Remember that if you try to make everything look important then nothing will end up looking important as there will be no hierarchy to inform users where they should look. One of the key functions of a well-designed visual hierarchy is to establish a focal point so users know where to start navigating your application.
You can use fonts, colors, size, contrast, location, white space, etc. to inform users what information is of primary importance and which are of less importance. Remember that balance and moderation are important. You don’t want to overpower a design with a focal point that’s overwhelming or reduce secondary information so much that it is difficult to read. Consider what people do with your app and product and design based on what users do in the real world, not what you are hoping they will do.
Cut the clutter
You want your user interface to help facilitate your users’ decision making process. To do that, you want to make sure that each item that you add meets certain guidelines, to begin with, each item should have a clear reason for being included and each item should help users get closer to their goals for using your app. If an item does not help guide a user or answer a question you should ask yourself if your UI really needs it.
The reason for this is that you want to reduce the cognitive load on users as much as possible. The easier you make the decision making process, the more likely it is that users will make a decision to move forward. If the decision process is complicated or it forces users to work to figure it out, there is a high likelihood users will abandon the process altogether.
Avoid adding visual clutter on your interface as well. This can come in the form of irrelevant images, pointless design elements and redundant links that all add to the cognitive load experienced by users. Clutter can also come in the form of poor communication. Keep your language simple and clear for your users. Avoid technical terms, internal jargon and big words that slow users down. Simple, clear content is much more useful than complicated explanations that need to be read repeatedly to be understood.
Make sure you maintain consistency throughout your interface. Not only does it look unprofessional when you don’t, but it will also send mixed signals to your users. If you chose a particular style for an element then stick with it throughout your design. Your users will learn by using your app and by performing actions and if they encounter unexpected or inconsistent content or actions, it will reduce the quality of the experience and perhaps even cause them to abandon your app.
Set style guides to establish standards that will help keep you on the right track. Maintain consistency with colors, fonts, spacing and elements to create a pattern that users can easily recognize and rely on. Simple things like maintaining consistent white space around headers sends a message to users that they are quickly able to recognize.
In addition to design elements, you want the language you use in both your interface and copy to maintain consistency throughout your application. This will help improve users’ perceptions of your mobile app and products and reduce confusion. You want to make sure you don’t use different terms to describe the same thing throughout the user experience. This constancy of communication goes beyond just the terms and words themselves and extends to the tone of your copy.
Design specifically for each OS
When designing your app, you want to take into account the specific nature of each OS. While it can certainly save a little bit of time and a little bit of money to make one user interface design that you use both for iOS and Android, it is a better plan to design for each OS specifically.
When you approach your design process the goal should be to create the best user experience you can for your users. It is impossible to do this if you don’t take the specifics of each OS into account. Keep in mind that users of each type of device have slightly different habits and preferences. They have grown familiar with how their particular OS functions and if your application does not behave in a manner consistent with that, users are less likely to enjoy using it.
Android and iOS each have their own particular styles and are a little different from each other. If you design for one of them and then just transfer that design over, you could be creating an unfamiliar experience for those users that turns them off. You don’t need to create a completely different user interface for iOS and Android, but you do need to adapt the design for specifics related to each.
Design a great onboarding experience
Unfortunately when it comes to mobile apps, on average, less than 5% of those that download apps become regular users, meanwhile a staggering 80-90% will use an app just once and never return (Compuware). Because of this, it is essential you make a great first impression with those that download your app.
You can’t beat making a great first impression with users. If you start users out just looking at your dashboard with no direction at all, it creates a lackluster first impression that leaves users scrambling to figure out what to do. But by creating an onboarding experience, you can get those who download your app using it as quickly as possible and create a fantastic first impression.
The onboarding experience should begin as soon as your app is launched for the very first time. To develop an effective onboarding process you want to start with the end in mind. Do you want to give users a basic overview of all the features or do you want to cover a few key features more in-depth? Which would be more useful to your users given the specifics of your app? Which one would help them start using your app right away?
If you carefully evaluate what would be of the greatest value to your users and design the onboarding process with that in mind, you can increase the likelihood of creating a successful first experience with your mobile app.