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Best UI design principles to develop strong mobile apps

Mehul Rajput
Smartphone interface design concept image via Shutterstock

Countless of apps spring up daily like mushrooms after the rain, but not all developers have what it takes to make their apps great. By following these steps, you will learn or remember that details make the difference and can make or break an app.

Hundreds of existing apps that provide unique and highly commendable user experience leave no room for apps with average design and underperforming user interface. As a mobile app designer or developer, you must either set a new UI benchmark or be ready to watch your app get lost in the crowd. The good news is that it is rather simple if you pay heed to certain designated UI design principles and incorporate them in your app designing efforts. 

Before you begin (and if this is your first attempt at mobile app designing), it is important that you adopt the ‘mobile mindset’. Keep in mind that you might have to abandon some of the stuff to fit into the mobile space. Let’s begin.

A Layout with Consistent Flow

The good old principle of web designing holds even greater significance for mobile apps when the screen size shrinks significantly. Without laying out your app’s design consistently, you end up creating a mess that would not please any of your targeted mobile users. Let each section of the app unfold seamlessly, creating an outstandingly smooth flow. Anything emerging out of the blue may lead to undesired action that may leave the user frustrated.

Decide the level of simplicity

It is true that keeping a mobile app simple, without putting in complex design elements, works in its favor. However, you must not make it too simple because it may allow boredom or even confusion to creep in. For example, using the same color for different sections may make it difficult for viewers to tell them apart.

Keep the interactivity visible

If you add high interactive value to your app, but forget to give users the ‘visible’ control for interaction, you’ve clearly missed the boat. The key buttons, icons and other elements must be visible right in front of users’ eyes. Don’t make the mistake of hiding them in some menu as most users would fail to access them. Few seconds without much interaction and they might get annoyed.

At the same time, you must choose the right navigation model if incorporating every navigation element in the available screen space is difficult. ‘Drill down’, for example, is one popular model which lists the content in a hierarchy. The nature of your app and the expected user behavior for the similar apps should help you choose.

Focus on core functionality

Trying to pack a lot in a single app would only make it fat and complex and irrelevant for ‘on-the-go’ mobile environment. It is important that you decide which is the app’s main purpose and deal with your urge to add more of the awesome-looking features and functions. A great idea would be to define a set of different functionalities and design more related apps. It would in fact inspire those using the app in question to take an interest in the related ones as well.

Exploit users’ inference, not remembrance

Design in a way that allows app users to recognize the flow without feeling the need to remember it. App designers call this approach intuitive because after using the app for the very first time, the user understands the flow by using their acceptance of the app’s interface. This user habit can be cultivated by placing the buttons and options in a manner that endorses inference.

SEE ALSO: Top 7 Mobile and Web App Framework for UI/UX Designers

Don’t use up all the app’s surprises

You would not like the users to get bored of your app too early, would you? Well! You can avoid that by making sure that your app’s design is worth discovering every single day. Don’t throw all its features and capabilities in one go -disclose them when the time is right. It would enrich the users’ experience and keep them glued to the app.

Consider the varied physical capabilities

It is important to have target mobile users from different age brackets. One simple example would be that of font size selection. You may keep it small to save space or to make it look better and it may appeal to the young users. What about users above 35-40 years of age? Their eyes may lose the power to access minute texts and they may quickly abandon the app. The solution is to have ‘adaptive’ designs which allow users to set preferences for viewing or using the app.

Honor the needs of different platforms

In case you are developing a platform-independent app or plan to port your app from one platform to another in the future, you should consider adding the required flexibility in your design. The aim should be to meet the capabilities of various platforms (iOS, Web, Android and so on). In case it is too difficult, why not invest in different app versions for different platforms? It would all depend on your targeted audiences and their preferred mobile platforms.

Carefully integrate mobile capabilities 

Devices on which the app would be installed are smarter than ever and you must consider which of their capabilities must be incorporated in the user interface and how. Here are some tips:

  • Gestures: While tapping and swiping are the common gestures, there are many others that users might not be familiar with. Remember that gestures are invisible and you must highlight them cleverly to draw the required response from users.

  • Keyboards: Smartphones have many variations of keyboards and it might annoy your user to select one if your app requires a lot of inputting. Think wise and allow relevant keyboard variation (numbers, alphabets and so on) to appear automatically.

  • Orientation: Though portrait is almost the default orientation for most of the apps, don’t ignore the usefulness of landscape orientation if a lot of typing is involved.

Help establish app-user interaction

It is essential to establish the interaction between the app and the user during the first attempt. By doing so, you instill a sense of confidence. Here are some recommended UI design principles:

  • Responsiveness: The app must keep the user informed about the response to any of his or her action. The acknowledgment should appear instantly as if you anticipate what the user wants to know. The interface should respond with phrases such as ‘your data is being saved’, ‘you message has been sent’ and so on. A progress bar must appear if the response is taking time to complete. Adding a visual response may work even better.

  • Confirmations: It is especially important for people using your app for the first time. They might accidentally initiate an action and your app must confirm before completing it. Make it ask ‘are you sure you want to do it?’

  • Searches: In-app search features make an app extremely usable. Using interesting search patterns such as ‘recent searches’, ‘filtering’ and ‘auto complete’ may be a good idea. 

To understand these principles better

  • Test rigorously: Make sure you test every single detail of your app’s user interface, not just as a designer but also as a prospective app user.

  • Keep an eye on the competition: Many apps with similar themes might already exist. Don’t hesitate to explore apps that have been downloaded by a large number of people for some additional inspiration.

  • Refer to the experts: Online communities of app designers and developers advocate the fixed UI design principles to save time and efforts and to come up with guaranteed good results. Refer to and follow what they recommend.

While the mobile app design trends keep on changing, the basic principles are hardly short-lived. If you choose to stick to the trends, you may not have a hard time earning the admiration of your app’s users. 


Mehul Rajput

Mehul Rajput is a CEO of Mindinventory, a mobile app development company specialized in android and iOS app development. He does blogging as a hobby and loves to write on mobile technology, mobile app development and app marketing. You can follow him on Twitter @mehul_sap2004.

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