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App UX: The 5 Fundamentals You Need to Know

Have you ever downloaded an app only to delete it minutes later because of its lagging server, dull design or unappealing features? This is mostly likely because of a negative initial user experience (UX).

A user’s initial impression of your app’s design and functionality will be the key to whether your mobile app is a success or an “app-solute” failure.

This guide looks at the foundational principles of crafting exceptional app UX. By understanding these core tenets, you can design mobile applications that are not just visually appealing, but delightfully intuitive and user-centric.

App UX was at the centre of our work with the apartment app, Noli.Noli approached Shoreditch to expand and design the App's UI & UX. With a multitude of features, simplifying navigation was paramount. Our goal: ensure Noli tenants get the most out of their Helsinki stay with effortless ease. Noli is all about making their tenants feel as at home as possible, so inevitable tasks such as booking a repair or an extra cleaning need to be seamless so that guests can focus on enjoying their stay.

Part 1: Putting the User at the Center

Designing for the user is critical for the success of your app. To address and capture the whole user experience, it’s important to create your projects using user-centred design (UCD).

UCD is an interactive design process in which designers focus on the user and their needs in each phase of the design process. The philosophy underpins the idea that we should create innovative solutions while relying on empathy and observing how humans interact.

To implement UCD, designers will conduct a variety of user research, using a range of investigative methods and tools: surveys and interviews to help gauge what the user’s needs are and how they would like to achieve them. They will also involve users in every stage of the design process to have a full understanding of their needs, requirements and environment.

These stages include:

  • Research & analysis
  • Concept & strategy
  • Design
  • Development
  • Implementation & testing

It’s crucial that design teams undergo thorough analysis and research to understand their ideal user, target audience, and pain points, as well as gather a deeper insight into some of the challenges app users face.

One way to learn about your users is with user personas. Deemed as one of the most valuable tools in UX design, personas are fictional representations of your target audience that can help you understand their goals and motivations, as well as empathise with them.

There are two types of personas UX designers create:

The Proto-Persona

A user persona is often used before the start of a project, particularly if designers need more resources or time to conduct extensive research. It is a lightweight, ad-hoc version of a persona based on research from other sources, such as market research or demographic data alongside assumptions of team members or UX designers. Creating a potential target user to work with can be particularly useful during brainstorming sessions.

The Qualitative Persona

A fictional representation of a target audience using data from interviews, usability tests, observations or field studies.

Personas are not intended to capture every single user you encounter. Instead, they aim to humanise your target audience, foster empathy, create specific designs for particular users, and test iterations.

Part 2: Designing for Usability

As individuals, we tend to become impatient very quickly when things don’t work the way we want them to. That is why it is important that when designing an app, usability is the core focus.

Firstly, for the user to have an effective and efficient UX, your mobile app must have intuitive navigation and consistency. Users need to be able to move from one thing to another, otherwise, if it is too complicated, they may become impatient and exit your app forever. The app should have user-friendly features that are easily accessible and understandable. Furthermore, users expect fast-loading speeds, two seconds or less, so it is key to optimise the loading time to evade user frustration.

Next, strive for a minimalistic design that opts for functionality. Nobody likes a cluttered user interface and by keeping it clean, you increase the chances that users’ attention will be captured by important features — thus necessary actions will be taken.

Another way to enhance user experience is with micro-interactions. Microinteractions can be the difference between you hating and loving an app. Medium describes them as “small, subtle, and often unnoticed interactions that happen when you use a digital product.”

Ever liked someone’s Instagram post? You’ll know that a heart animation appears across your interface to show your appreciation for the content. Or, when you refresh your internet browser, you see a spinning icon to indicate the page is loading. These are examples of micro-interactions. Microinteractions can be anything from feedback to animation, sound or gesture, that communicates something to the user.

While they may seem trivial, micro-interactions are extremely important in UX design because they:

  • Provide user feedback and guidance: Informs the user about the status of an action and helps them navigate the interface.
  • Enhance usability: The product becomes more interactive and responsive as it allows the user to customise their preferences or perform quick actions.
  • Add personality and encourage engagement: With appealing visuals, bright colours or fun and humorous elements, this can bring fun and keep users engaged with the app. It is also a good way of reflecting the brand’s identity.

Visual design was one of the most important aspects of our work with Hoops, a Chicago-based tech startup transforming grassroots basketball.We helped them design an iOS and Android app for basketball coaches to perfect their game by strategising, planning tactics, analysing game results and viewing tables and leagues.

Part 3: Visual Design for Apps

While you may have an idea in your head about what you would like your app to look like, it is vital that you strategically plan the visual design of your mobile app. Here are the key factors to consider when designing your mobile app's visual identity:

The Power of Visual Hierarchy

One of the ways you can guide users through the app content and its functionalities is by using a visual hierarchy. Visual hierarchy is a principle which guides the eyes and arranges elements in order of importance. Users can become very overwhelmed or lack comprehension if the information is not presented coherently or in a structured format. Designers combat this by prioritising information that users can process more easily.

As the Nielsen Norman Group states, “If you have a hard time figuring out where to look on a page, it’s more than likely that its layout is missing a clear visual hierarchy.” So to conquer this, visual hierarchy can be implemented through variations in scale, value, colour, spacing, placement, and a variety of other signals. Here at Shoreditch Design, we can help you with visual hierarchy.

Choosing the Right UI Elements

To create an intuitive and engaging experience for users, you must choose the correct UI elements. To make an informed decision, you should:

  • Understand your target audience: Before you choose any UI component, understanding your users is paramount. Through research, you can learn how they behave, their needs or their pain points.
  • Prioritise simplicity and usability: Simplicity in design enhances usability — users are more likely to continue using a product if they can navigate quickly. Remove any unnecessary elements and offer users only what they need, not less or not more.
  • Consider platform guidelines: Adhere to design patterns and best practices for the platform you're targeting (iOS or Android). This ensures a familiar experience for users.
  • A/B testing: It is important to test UI components with real users and collect feedback. By implementing A/B testing, you can compare different variations of UI components, measure their performance metrics and decide which resonates best with users. This will allow you to continuously refine and optimise your UI components based on real user data.

Part 4: Building for Accessibility

16% of the global population experience a significant disability today, so it is crucial that your app is accessible to create an inclusive user experience.

Accessibility is not only a legal requirement, but also a moral and ethical responsibility. It expands your potential audience, improves your reputation and helps contribute to building a better business.

To select accessible UI components, you need to follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which define how you can make content more accessible and techniques which will make your UI perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust.

Some of the key WCAG components include:

  • Layout Design: Mobile apps should be designed with touch in mind. Ensure buttons are large and easily tappable to allow for straightforward navigation of your app. You should also include descriptive labels for all buttons, links and controls — stating their purpose to maintain consistency and clarity throughout the app.
  • Alternative Text: Adding alternative text to images can be helpful for people with visual impairments. Alternative text provides a textual description of an image and allows users with screen readers to understand the content.
  • Colour Contrast: When choosing colours for text and backgrounds, you must consider the needs of those with visual impairments. By ensuring proper colour contrast, it can help make text more legible and improve accessibility for people with low vision or colour blindness.
  • Text Resizability: It is important to remember that when creating text, the one-size-fits-all approach is not inclusive. In enabling users to adjust font or text size, this can improve accessibility, and readability and allow them to read text comfortably.
  • Screen Reader Compatibility: For people with mobile impairments, voice control options can offer users an interactive experience without having to touch the screen.

While there are many more ways to improve accessibility on your app, following some of these key steps will allow for your app to be more accessible for everyone and allow for a great user experience. It is also important to keep an eye out for ways you can increase your app’s accessibility features as your app evolves over time.

Part 5: Beyond the Basics: Advanced App UX

Given the average Day 1 retention rate of 25.3%, it's essential to ensure a positive and captivating user experience within the first interaction.

Long and poor onboardings can frustrate users and make them 23% more likely to churn. Mobile app users are more likely to become impatient than web users so it is crucial that mobile onboarding is shorter and more engaging. Determining your in-app onboarding strategy can be helpful when designing.

There are three different ways to organise this:

Function-oriented Onboarding

For apps that require an introduction, are more complex or have unique features, we recommend a function-oriented onboarding process. As the name suggests, this strategy displays an app’s key features, and how they can be used to inform the user about basic functions without being too long-winded. Users can be taken on an interactive, guided tutorial that explains your app’s content and functionalities.

Benefits-oriented Onboarding

Contrastingly, benefits-oriented onboarding displays the app’s value and showcases what it can do for users, rather than how to use it. This kind of onboarding is meant to encourage conversion and higher retention rates. Through visuals, videos or graphics, you can demonstrate the benefits of your app rather than providing an extensive list of features. For example, a dating app could show how you can find the love of your life through filtering options, rather than instructing a user on how to set their location or age preferences.

Progressive Onboarding

Lastly, with progressive onboarding, a series of steps will be offered and gradually introduce new users to the product. As they explore the app, they will be introduced to a step-by-step guide, tooltips to explain new features, bite-sized pieces of information or even personalised questionnaires that they can fill out. 

This allows users to explore and master the app at their own pace. This strategy is particularly useful for apps that contain complex information, perform new or unique functions or introduce frequent updates.

Choosing any of these strategies can deliver a positive UX experience. The most important thing to remember is that in-app onboarding should be customised to the needs of the users and the goals of your brand.

Here at Shoreditch Design, we care about taking users on a journey. If you would like to know more about App UX and how we approach UI & UX design, check out our case studies or get in touch for a chat about your app UX design project today.

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