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An introduction to mobile design

Learn what mobile design, UX and UI are, and how to design a mobile app for iOS, Android and more.

Introduction to mobile design

People are using their phones more than ever before, with apps and websites accounting for the vast majority of that time. Therefore, it’s important that the apps we use work seamlessly and are appealing to look at. This is why mobile design is so essential.

In this article, we’ll look at how to make an app for iOS, Android or any other mobile operating system through the lens of UX (user experience) and UI (user interface). We’ll also discuss how you can learn mobile design in greater detail.

What is UX and why is it important to mobile design?

The quality of the user experience (UX) is usually what distinguishes a good mobile app design from a bad one. An excellent user experience is what separates successful apps from those that fail. Today’s mobile users have high expectations for apps, including quick loading times, ease of use, and effortless user interaction. Successful apps employ UX as an important part of product strategy.

Mobile UX: mobile design best practices

Simplify navigation

Every app should have simple navigation as its top priority. Amazing features and interesting content will be useless if users can’t locate them; additionally, if learning how to navigate your product takes too much time or effort, you’re likely to lose customers. 

Users should be able to navigate the app intuitively and execute all basic functions without help. Avoid using gestures such as swiping for navigation – it’s too much of a hassle – and always show the user where they are in the app via indicators at the top of the page.

Minimise tasks

Look for unnecessary tasks (entry of data, making a decision) in your mobile app design, and see if you can cut out those steps. You can, for example, reuse previously entered data, or use already accessible data to provide a smart solution in certain circumstances. Don’t ask the user to type more.

Avoid sign-in walls

A sign-in wall is a place where users must register before using an app. It’s a common source of user annoyance and one of the leading causes of app abandonment. The percentage of customers that quit the registration process is particularly high for apps with low brand recognition or a confusing value proposition.

As a general guideline, only require users to register if it is absolutely necessary (for instance, if your app’s primary features are only accessible once users register). Even in this situation, it’s best to wait as long as possible before asking users to sign up – let them use the app for a while before gently encouraging them to register. As much as possible, give users a chance to fall in love with your app before putting speed bumps in their way.

Reduce cognitive load

The brainpower required to use the app is referred to as cognitive load. Because the human brain can only handle so much information at once, an app that gives too much information at once may overload the user and cause them to leave the app.

One of the worst enemies of good design is clutter. By clogging up your user interface, you’re giving the user too much information. The interface becomes more complicated with each additional button, image, or icon. Keep the content to a bare minimum and only show the user what they need to know.

Cut out typing as much as possible

Typing on a tiny phone screen is rarely a pleasant experience, as it’s frequently prone to errors. Filling out a form is one of the most typical typing tasks. Remove any extra fields from forms to make them as brief as possible. The app should request only the most basic information from the user.

Use intelligent features like autocomplete. Filling out an address section, for example, is often the most difficult component of any registration form. Users can enter their address with minimum effort when compared with a conventional input field if they use an address finder based on location or postcode.

Keep it consistent

A core principle of UX design is predictability. Users have a greater sense of control when things perform the way they expect. Unlike on the desktop, where users may verify whether something is interactive or not by hovering over it, on mobile, users can only check interactivity by tapping on an element. 

That’s why it’s crucial to consider the message communicated by the app’s buttons and other interactive elements. Function should come first, then form: the appearance of the element should instruct the customer on how to use it. Users will be easily confused by visual elements that seem like buttons but aren’t clickable.

The “back” button should function correctly. A badly designed “back” button can create a whole host of problems. Prevent situations where hitting the “back” button in the middle of a multi-step process returns users to the home screen or deletes previously filled form information.

A good design allows users to go back and make changes more easily. Users can proceed with confidence when they know they can review the information they’ve provided or the options they’ve chosen.

Optimise Push Notifications

Annoying notifications are among the most common reasons for people uninstalling mobile apps. Sending push alerts just because you can isn’t a good idea. Every notice should be useful and timely.

Make the app seem fast and responsive

A short load time is critical to the user experience. As technology advances, people become more impatient. Today, 47% of users expect pages to load in less than 2 seconds.

Visitors may become annoyed and leave if a page takes a long time to load. Therefore, while developing a mobile app, speed should be of top priority. However, no matter how fast you make your app, some things will take time to complete. 

A faulty internet connection or a long-running procedure could cause a slow response. Even if you can’t cut down the wait time, use an animated loading screen to make the wait more enjoyable and assure the user that the app hasn’t stopped working.

Make error messages intelligible

When people use apps, they make mistakes. Error messages may pop up as a result of user error or as a result of the app’s failure. Regardless of the cause, these problems and how they are handled have a significant impact on the user experience. Bad error handling, along with ineffective error messaging, might cause users to become frustrated and abandon your app.

Don’t assume that people are tech-savvy enough to sort things out on their own. Always explain what’s wrong in simple terms. Each error message should explain what went wrong and, if possible, why it happened, as well as the next steps the user should take to correct the problem.

Create a frictionless onboarding process

Delivering an outstanding onboarding experience is one of the best ways to design a UX that retains users. The purpose of onboarding is to demonstrate the value of your app.

Contextual onboarding is a particularly effective onboarding method. Contextual onboarding refers to the provision of instructions only when they are required by the user. Duolingo is a great illustration of this. Users are invited to jump right in and take a brief exam in the language of their choice, rather than being spammed with instructions. This makes learning more enjoyable and interactive.

Personalise the user experience

Personalisation is an extremely important aspect of mobile design. It’s a chance to interact with users and give them the information they need in a customised way.

Use personalisation to improve the mobile user experience. It’s a good idea to provide tailored information based on a user’s location, previous searches, and purchases. For example, if your consumers prefer to buy certain types of products every month, an app can keep note of that and offer them special prices on those items.

What is UI and why is a good UI important to mobile design?

User interface (UI) refers to an app’s graphical layout. It includes the buttons that users press, the text they read, the graphics, sliders, text entry boxes, and all other objects with which the user interacts. The user interface (UI) is a critical component of the user experience; if the UI is unattractive and busy, users will abandon the app.

Mobile UI: best practices

Keep the design consistent

A fundamental principle of design is consistency. It’s critical to keep an app’s look and feel consistent throughout. The app’s typefaces, buttons, and labels must all be consistent. All interactive features in your programme should work in the same way.

If you have both a web service and a mobile app, ensure they have the same features so that users will be able to seamlessly switch between the mobile app and the mobile website. Inconsistency in design, such as a varied navigation scheme or colour palette, can lead to confusion.

Provide user interaction feedback

Objects respond to touch in the physical world; people expect digital UI controls to be responsive in the same way. Every user contact requires immediate feedback. If you don’t provide feedback, the user will worry that your software has frozen. The feedback could be visual (such as highlighting a pressed button) or tactile (such as a vibration).

Use familiarity

Users will encounter familiar screens in a variety of apps. For smartphone apps, screens like “Home,” “Settings,” “Favourites” and “Recent” have become the norm. Because users are already familiar with them, they don’t require extra explanation. This eliminates the learning curve by allowing users to interact with the programme based on prior expertise.

Keep it legible

Readability and legibility are crucial in mobile typography. If users cannot read your content, there’s no point in providing it in the first place. On any screen, anything less than 16 pixels (or 11 points) is difficult to read. Most users prefer a clean, easy-to-read font. 

A default typeface like Open Sans or Roboto is a safe bet. Light-coloured lettering may look trendy, but it will be difficult to read, especially against a light background. For simple reading, make sure there is lots of contrast between the typeface and the background.

Give visual weight to important elements

Give visual weight to the most important item on the screen. Font weight, size, and colour can all be used to give an element additional weight. Larger items are more noticeable and appear to be more important than smaller ones.

Make your design colourblind-friendly

Colour blindness affects 4.5% of the world’s population. On mobile forms, success and error messages are frequently coloured green and red, yet these are the hues that are most affected by colour blindness. If you have a colour-vision problem, this can be a very frustrating experience – so use something other than colour as a signal.

Find out more about accessible UX design with our online course from the Institute of Coding and UAL Creative Computing Institute.

Use high-resolution images

The development of devices with high-resolution screens has raised the bar for image quality. On high-definition screens, images should not appear pixelated.

Images should always be shown in the correct aspect ratio to avoid looking distorted. Images that have been stretched too broadly in order to fit into a space may appear unpleasant and out of place.

Optimise video for portrait mode

Many consumers are fast adopting video as their preferred form of content consumption, with most viewing it in portrait mode. Therefore, it’s important to optimise video content for portrait mode.

How to learn app design

FutureLearn provides multiple courses where you can learn to design an app. A great place to start is our Digital Marketing: Coding, UX, and Creating Digital Content ExpertTrack from the University of Leeds, which will walk you through all aspects of creating a great UX

Alternatively, check out our Innovations in FinTech ExpertTrack from the University of Michigan for an initiation into the lucrative world of fintech and fintech mobile apps.

Final thoughts

With so many apps out there, it’s hard to compete in this increasingly crowded field. But by following a few simple rules and having the right digital skills, you’ll distinguish your app from others and rise above the competition.

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