There is a 50% chance you are reading this article on your smartphone. Even if you're not, in about 5 or 10 seconds, a notification from some app will pop up on your smartphone lock screen, following which you may or may not find yourself on social media, ordering food, or buying something from your favorite eCommerce platform.
This article will walk you through designing a mobile app user interface to engage users and convert the engagement into revenue.
Why should you focus on mobile app design?
With the increase in mobile phone usage, millions of apps across operating systems have gathered immense user traction. Mobile-first design has now become an unspoken industry standard. You should focus on mobile design because there is a high chance that most of your user base is mobile-oriented and is contributing to the multi-billion dollar app development rush.
Unfortunately, not all apps succeed in the market. Yes, the user experience must be on point for success, but the user interface must complement the experience to retain the user and gain new ones. It has something to do with the aesthetic Usability Law in UX brought about by two researchers from Hitachi Design Center. It states that an aesthetically pleasing user interface generates a positive response in the user's mind leading them to believe that the app works better.
Types of mobile apps
Before we dive into the best particles of mobile UI design, let us look at the types of mobile apps. They are categorized based on the way they are coded using a specific technology.
- Native Apps: sit on a particular operating system and only work on that particular one
- Web Apps: are websites responding to the viewport and showing up on a mobile's web browser as an app
- Hybrid Apps: are a combination of the above two types of apps but are wrapped in a native app to give users the ability to download them on their devices
- Progressive Web Apps: is built using web development technologies to make them platform-independent and allow them to work on both mobiles and desktops
Mobile UI design principles
Mobile apps follow UI Design principles like other devices, with slight adjustments made for a better experience since the mobile phone is a relatively small device with the touch feature. Following are certain aspects you should take care of while designing for smartphones:
The device is small, and hence, a cluttered screen will be off-putting, and the user will not enjoy the app's experience. A cleaner minimalistic interface will provide some breathing room and allow users to make the best possible decisions without too much cognitive load.
Visibility and feedback
Redundant information should be avoided, and users should remain informed of what they are doing at all times. It is best to give users only what they need at the right time to retain user interest.
Similarity and familiarity
Assume that your users spend most of their time on other apps and websites, so they are familiar with specific patterns and actions. Keep those consistent in your designs and let inventions be as low as possible.
Now that we have prepared a mindset, let us get our hands dirty and understand how to design mobile app UI's for a great experience.
Essential software design patterns in mobile applications
You will find that some screens in mobile UI design are frequently in use. Knowing these design patterns and keeping the interfaces similar to the ones already on the web, as discussed earlier, can help users get on board and use the app much faster.
Most commonly used screens include:
The splash screen appears as soon as the app is opened and is the first interaction point of the app's brand with the user. It stays on the screen for about 4-8 seconds and usually has the logo of the app centered on brand-based color background.
These are a set of 3-5 screens, depending on the onboarding steps needed, to get users acquainted with what the app does and what they are going to do after logging in. Keep the onboarding screens fun and interactive, so users are interested in the app even before using it. General practice includes images and illustrations with small amounts of descriptive text on each screen.
If your application, like most others, needs a sign-up or log-in for the consumer to start using, log-in/sign-up screens could be very crucial. Multiple log-in options like Google, Facebook, Apple ID may make the overall onboarding experience better.
This is the operations base of your app. It gives a user control over the options and features in the software installed and has all menus within quick reach.
Other screens include:
Statistics and data screens
These days, mobile apps have more data than any other source in this world. Providing the user with this data makes the app even more interactive and gives them some insights to complement their experience.
In an e-commerce platform, the catalog screen displays all products of different brands or that particular brand for the consumers to choose. Consider this a display shelf showing everything the company has to offer. The main call to action button here would be the "Add to Cart" or "Buy" button.
Social feed screens
Most people spend their time on social media on their mobile phones to keep themselves up-to-date with world news and happenings. Feed screens should be quickly scannable without overburdening the user with too much detail. Usually, apps keep an endless scroll type pattern on feed screens.
We have only discussed common UI patterns here, but the mobile design includes numerous other screens depending upon the intent and purposes of the application developed.
Here are some best practices to keep in mind while designing for smartphones:
Take care of the bleeding areas and thumb areas
Each mobile phone has margins for the status bar and the bottom menu navigation. It is essential to recognize these margins and design accordingly. iPhones and Android phones may have different margins, but we will discuss generic layouts and margins for smartphone designs. It is recommended to have a status bar of 44px height, a header bar of 44px height that can go up to 56px, a bottom navigation bar of 48px to 56px is recommended. Anything between that is a safe space to design. Also, a margin of 16px on either side of the screen is left to give the screen elements breathing room.
Since real estate on a mobile screen is far lesser, not everything needs to be shown to the user at once. Use a progressive revealing technique to stash the secondary layer of functionalities in menus and drawers for the user to explore as and when needed. The lower the number of options on the screen at a particular point in time, the lower the user's error rate.
Not all users will have perfect vision or hearing. It is always a good practice to think empathetically about those with impairments and design for universal accessibility. Google material design strongly advocates for accessibility options like color considerations for color-blind people, speech assistant for the visually impaired, gesture recognition for deaf or mute, and so on. Advanced technologies like neural networks are being used to incorporate better accessibility in mobile apps now.
Avoid excessive jargon
Always write a simple copy for your software because it will be used by ordinary people, who most probably will not have the technical expertise you do.
Motion and animation
The concept is vast in itself. Avoid making the design static; animations and motion elements could be added to interfaces that could range from changing color, shape, and control of objects, the vibration of buttons when pressed, loading screen animations, and even scroll animation. Adding a slight lag to elements scrolled one after the other will make the interface much more enjoyable and create a delight factor. Almost every little thing on the screen could use a little bit of animation.
This is where one should be careful. Too much animation could lead to distraction and not allow the user to achieve the objective they had in mind when they started using the app. The excessive motion also makes the app load slower and use more phone memory.
Simple CSS animations of color change, scroll, and system confirmation like success or error could add to the improvement of the interface. For more on motion, refer to the behavior of elements section in Google material design.
Optimize your content for mobile
Design for mobile phones should consider font sizes, paragraph length, and button sizes since the target areas for buttons are smaller, and readability is essential. We suggest a button size of at least 42px x 42px and body font size of 16px.
Minimize user input
Any time the user has to sit and fill massive forms on his small phone with a small keyboard, it will be a point of frustration. To avoid that, add components like autofill and saved fields.
Take advantage of the device's capabilities. You are designing for a device that can be carried around in one's pocket and has a wireless internet connection. Now most phones have features like GPS, gyro sensors, accelerometer, and camera. Use these to your advantage and try incorporating their functions into your application's capability. A great example would be how running apps track your steps and distance using GPS and other sensors.
On a side note, it is also good to think of designing for those who do not have internet connectivity all the time. Not everyone uses a high-end smartphone, but apps will be there on everyone's phones. Designing for all screen resolutions is also important. And one of the essential additions to your toolkit could be, designing for different regions since smartphones have crawled their way up to billions of people.
It is crucial to understand that you may not always get the right solution to a problem in the first attempt. It is always good to take feedback from your users and keep iterating to improve the overall experience.
We hope this blog has helped you clear your concepts for designing a mobile app UI that is well-planned, engaging, and leads to the desired output. If you'd like to cover any subject that helps make your designing journey better, let us know in the comment section below.