Designing complex applications is a challenging undertaking. Building applications that have both the depth to support complicated tasks and the intuitiveness to make it clear how to get that work done is a tremendous challenge.
Thus, our first recommendation is to do user research with your target audience:
- Begin with task analysis and field studies to understand your users’ needs and workflows.
- Prototype and test low-fidelity ideas to rough out the essential structure of your app and its features, without committing many resources towards ideas that you will revise or abandon as you learn from your users.
- Design iteratively, and test each change with a small number of users. The more iterations, the better your application will be.
Designing an App Without Purpose
Avoid entering the design process without clear intentions. Apps are too often designed and developed in order to follow trends rather than to solve a problem, fill a niche, or offer a distinct service.
For the designer and their team, the app’s purpose will affect every step of a project. It guides every decision, from the branding or marketing of an app to the wireframe format to the button aesthetic. If the purpose is clear, each piece of the app will communicate and function as a coherent whole.
Conveying this vision to potential users means that they will understand the value an app brings to their life. The vision needs to be clearly communicated from the user’s first impression. How quickly can the vision for the app be conveyed to users? How will it improve a person’s life or provide some sort of enjoyment or comfort? As long as an app’s usefulness is conveyed immediately to users, it’s likely to be part of the 21% of apps that make it past the first 90 days.
When entering an existing market, there are apps designed for that space designers can study as a baseline. They can improve upon what is already out there or provide a unique alternative in order to stand out. They shouldn’t thoughtlessly imitate.
A Poor First Impression
Often, the first use or first day with an app is the most critical period to hook a potential user. The first impression is so critical that it could be an umbrella point for all of the other mobile design best practices. If anything goes wrong, or appears confusing or boring, potential users are quickly disinterested.
The proper balance for first impressions is tricky, though. In some cases, a lengthy onboarding process to discover necessary features can bore users. Yet without proper onboarding, some apps will just confuse users if they’re not instantly intuitive. Creating an app that is immediately intuitive while also introducing users to the most exciting, engaging features quickly is a delicate balancing act.
Although it can be a good way to get someone quickly oriented, drawn-out onboarding can also stand in the way of users doing what they want to do with the app. Often, these tutorials are too long and are swiped through blindly.
Keep in mind that when users first use an app, they don’t necessarily have any waypoints for how the app should function or what it can do. Proper beta testing process allows designers to learn how others perceive an app from the beginning. What seems obvious to the design team may not be for newcomers.