Top 10 UI/UX principles for mobile app development

If you're designing a mobile app, these are the UI and UX principles that should be top of mind
8 minute read
Lee Patten @leepatt3n
Technical Co-pilot
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Make your mobile app a joy to use with great UI and UX

Mobile app design is an incredibly competitive field. If your app is going to be successful, you’ll need to stay ahead of the game. Users have an almost infinite choice when it comes to mobile apps. They’ll instantly judge yours based on its usability and convenience. So, what are the best ways to make sure that your app is where users head first? Well, it helps to have an understanding of User Experience (UX) and User Interface (UI) design, so let’s start there.

UX and UI are two aspects of the same thing, but they’re different. What’s relevant here is that for your mobile app to stand out, great UI and exceptional UX are a must. You may be working with a freelancer to develop your own app. Or, you may be a freelancer building an app for a client. Either way, you’ll need to wear both UI and UX design hats.

Think of it like this. Wearing your UI designer’s hat means dealing with the technical elements of building a mobile app. That might mean working closely with the developer who is writing the code. Or, it could mean thinking about branding, user gestures, and graphic design elements while you write the code yourself. Good UI design involves making sure an app is responsive. That it guides the user with interactive components while providing them with excellent feedback. As the name suggests, UI is about designing the user interface or the front-facing side of a mobile app.

A great basis for building a mobile app is to have a killer idea. One that solves a user’s problem and will make them want to download, keep, and use your app every day. UX design sometimes gets overlooked in the rush to get a product onto the market. However, UX is where wise mobile app designers start. That’s because it’s where you start thinking about making your app indispensable. Most apps get downloaded, tried out, and never used again. UX is about avoiding that, and it’s where you figure out what your user wants. It’s where you make your app a pleasure to use.

Let’s look at ten ways you can use UX design to make your app stand out from the crowd. Remember, a great app evolves during an ongoing design process. You’ll find yourself swapping hats frequently as your app takes shape. UX design starts before a single line of code is written.

1. UX and Analysis: Check out what your competitors are doing, figure out what your potential customers love

Your app is brand new, so why not take a good look around and see what your competitors are doing? Chances are, they’re trying to solve the same problem or problems as you are. This is an opportunity to do that better. Use other apps on the market and decide what they’re doing well and not so well. Do your research and ask potential users what bugs them about apps. Find out what they love and what they want to see more of.

A great UX designer can understand the product a brand or company wants to develop. They’re also capable of figuring out the requirements of the users that the brand or company wants to reach. Then, they’re able to forge a mobile app that achieves the goals of both user and company.

2. UX and Planning: Working out the basic structure of your app, and how you’re going to make it happen

You know where your rivals are going wrong, and what your potential users want. That means you’re ready to look at strategy and structure. It’s important to remember that being a good UX designer means being a good project manager too. You need a plan, and a method of working that keeps an end goal in mind from start to finish. This is the time to set out your tasks and targets. Based on your research, work out the basic component parts of your app. Then, divide construction into a series of achievable tasks. The stages on a step-by-step plan are excellent places to refer back to when you hit a problem. A plan keep the design and build process moving, and you’ll be motivated every time you achieve a goal.

3. UX, Sketches, Wireframing, and Prototyping: Putting some skin on the bones of your mobile app design

Wireframing sounds hugely technical, but the truth is that it doesn’t need to be a hi-tech process. Once you’ve identified the required functionality, you can make it easier to build just by getting something down on paper.

Start by sketching out the main pages of your mobile app. This is a great way to begin to turn what’s still an abstract concept into reality. When that’s done, use the sketches to form the basis of a wireframe. One of the most significant benefits of a wireframe comes when you need to collaborate with a client or a developer. Wireframes aid communication and provide points of reference as you work through the various design stages.

When the sketching and wireframing is complete, you’re ready to turn the design elements you’ve created into a working prototype. A prototype is concerned with the design of a mobile app, rather than the deeper functionality. Think of it as a clickable mock-up of the finished product. It should be a superficial simulation which will enable you to iron out wrinkles in the interface. The benefits of a prototype are many, whether you’re designing an app for yourself or a client. Prototypes are a relatively inexpensive method to get to the perfect mobile app. It’s quick and easy to make design changes at the prototype stage. Prototypes also offer a great way to show a client exactly where their mobile app is heading.

4. UX meets UI: Testing, communication, and coordination. Working with developers and implementing design changes

Prototyping brings the need for efficient and productive communication. If you’re building your own app, a wireframe, sketches, and mock-up will aid the way you collaborate with your developer. If you’re overseeing a project for a client, the work you’ve done so far will be equally helpful. Dealing with the code that forms the fabric of your mobile app means UI design. However, you’ll still be wearing your UX design hat too.

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Prototypes facilitate testing of the user interface. Testing encourages changes to the design in order to achieve the goals you initially set out. During any necessary rounds of revisions and fine-tuning, concentrate on being an excellent communicator and be clear in your collaborations. UI design means thinking about the appearance and technical aspects of the app interface. UX design means managing the broader project and keeping those original goals in sight. Paying heed to both elements will maximize your chances of achieving a superior final design. The technical and design skills of the UI designer role are essential. Yet, it’s important to remember you’ll also need softer skills to make your mobile app work. When working as part of a team, be adaptable, versatile, and open to changes. Listen to feedback from both clients and developers, as well as anyone who has tested prototype versions. Use everything you learn to make the ultimate mobile app.

5. UI and Keeping Navigation User-friendly: Make them feel at home

Moving around within your mobile app should be a swift and seamless, effortless experience for your users. Clever use of menus and icons will help achieve this. It’s also wise to have testers try out designs along the way. Keep the navigation design uniform throughout the whole app to minimize confusion. To really make the user feel at home, build-in icon labels to avoid all doubt.

6. UI and Keeping User Goals in Mind: Focus on what they want

When users open your app, they’ll likely have a specific task or problem in mind. They might be looking for a mechanic, for example. In which case, they’ll probably want to quickly find out costs and have a facility for booking workshop time. You can even provide a map and directions, and information on public transport too. If you’ve been a good UX designer, you’ll already have identified user goals by quizzing potential users. This is the time to put that feedback to good use.

Make the most wanted features and answers the most straightforward items to access quickly. Don’t give users too much information and just give them what you know they need. Keeping it simple keeps things welcoming and pleasing to look at. It also means you can minimize the navigation options on each page.

7. UI and Device Gestures: Stick to what your users know

Many app designers overlook that not requiring users to learn a new gesture system is a sure-fire way to be liked. Consider which gestures a user will already be using and stick with those gestures. If your people are used to pinching, swiping, dragging, and sliding, keep them happy. They’ll feel more comfortable if you don’t alter the language environment. If you do need to deviate from the gestures your users know, just remember to communicate effectively with them.

8. UI and Remembering it’s Mobile: Hierarchy, tap targets, and the "rule of thumb"

Layouts on mobile require a different type of design than arrangements on desktop. That’s mainly due to the size of the interface you’re working with when building a mobile app. Try to think of that as an opportunity to keep things looking crisp, simple, and attractive. Don’t view a smaller screen as being a limitation or problem.

Targets on a mobile touchscreen rely on finger accuracy, and fingers are less accurate than a desktop mouse. Your mobile app targets need to provide enough pixels to enable quick and easy navigation. The recommended target size is between 7-10 millimeters.

The thumb is one of the things that set us apart as the dominant species on the planet. It’s also what most of us use to surf the mobile web. When you’re designing your mobile app, pay attention to the "thumb zone." That’s the touchscreen area easily reachable by the thumb with the handset held in one hand. Make sure to place frequently used navigation menus and targets in the "thumb zone" whenever possible.

Hierarchy is also an essential consideration for mobile devices. Carefully constructed hierarchy, using considered typography, makes pages far easier to navigate. Make section headings easy to identify by using a larger, bolder font. Keep line spacing friendly and passages of text minimal. Use easy-to-read text sizes, bullets and numbers to clearly convey messages and information. Your users will thank you, and stick around longer too.

9. UI and Feedback: Keeping users in the loop

There’s nothing worse for a user than when they don’t know what’s happening. Mobile apps are a relatively abstract tool. It’s not always apparent that a user query or requirement is in the process of being answered. So, make sure to give plenty of feedback and information about progress.

Use animations and transition screens to keep your users entertained, patient, and aware of what’s going on. This will keep them happier, keep them on-screen, and keep them coming back. You can also use the tactile feedback abilities of mobile devices to make apps more responsive. In addition, sounds are a great way to let a user know that their needs are being met.

10. UI and Data Input: Don’t Make users do all the work

Finally, consider how you feel when you have to fill out a lengthy form. It’s tedious, and it also slows down your day. Mobile app users are no different. Many will log permanently out of an app when a complicated or lengthy form appears. Once again, keep it simple and put the user first. Only include absolutely essential fields. Use options to log in via Facebook or Google accounts if you can.

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