So, you want to build an app — fantastic! More than just a fad, apps account for a whopping 89% of media time on mobile and more than half of all time spent online — more than desktop and mobile web combined. 

But creating the next hit app is about more than a great idea. Your app’s look and feel are just as important as how it functions. 75% of a user's judgment of a website's credibility is based on aesthetics. Better UI can raise your website’s conversion rate by up to 200% and better UX design can increase them by up to 400 percent.

Apps are no different.

For the uninitiated, app design can feel overwhelming. Luckily, we’ve got you covered. Here are the top 5 things you need to understand when starting your app design journey.

1. Understand Your Audience (& Make a Plan)

The first step of developing an app is determining your target audience. Who will be using your app? 

Your target audience will determine your app’s features and user interface (UI) design, as well as how you monetize your product. Knowing your target audience’s age range, education level, location, device preferences, and language is crucial. Remember that your app will be used by real people. The more you know about your potential users, the better equipped you will be to design a product that meets their needs.  

Build in user experience (UX) from the very beginning. Know what features are “must haves” for your audience and which ones are optional. 

Don’t forget to research the market. Are there any similar mobile products that already exist? Take a look at your competition and determine how these apps work, and whether or not they are successful. Decide how your app will stand out from the crowd and make a plan for how you will reach your audience. 

Data is your friend. Collecting and analyzing information about your target users should be an ongoing practice, especially as you grow your user base and scale your app. Tracking your app’s performance across time can give you better insight into what is working, and what isn’t. 

2. Focus on the First-Time Experience

First impressions matter. Almost half of mobile users are unlikely to return to a website or app that takes too long to load. If your app is frustrating or difficult to access, your customers won’t give it a second shot. 

Avoid sign-in walls. Let users experience the app before signing up or logging in. It encourages first-time users to engage with your product before committing. 

A well-designed onboarding experience is also essential. Consider using empty state screens to explain how to use your app, and refrain from asking for set-up information upfront. If you need information about your user, the device, or their environment, query the system rather than asking the user directly. 

Asking for permissions at the start can also be a turn-off for potential users. While it is generally okay to ask for obviously required permissions (such as a photo editor app that requires access to photos), avoid requesting access to a device’s camera or files without context. 

Users are more likely to grant permission, and your app will appear more trustworthy if you ask during a relevant task. 

3. Optimize Your UI


As previously discussed, your UI should be tailored to the specific needs of your target audience. That said, there are a few basic principles you can follow to ensure that your users have a seamless and intuitive experience. 

Keep it Simple

No one likes clutter. A screen crammed with images and buttons is a surefire way to give your users a headache. Focus on creating a smooth, simple experience for your users.

  • Apply principles of design hierarchy. Organize your content so that it’s easy for users to understand and consume. Remember that your design elements’ shape, size, and placement will also guide your users visually across the screen. 
  • Offload tasks and minimize user input. Ask the device before the user and eliminate the need for users to re-enter information multiple times. 
  • Keep interactive elements familiar and predictable. The goal is to create an easy and intuitive user experience. Anticipate user needs by including helpful tips, such as showing the user where to find information needed from a receipt or invoice. 
  • Avoid jargon and unconventional terminology. After all, you want to keep your users’ attention on your app, not send them running for a dictionary!

Simplicity applies to your app’s navigation, as well as its visual appearance. 

  • Use standard navigation components familiar to users, such as the “hamburger” menu, tab bar, and navigation drawer
  • Keep navigation tools clear and visible
  • Communicate your users’ current in-app location, so they don’t get lost

Interface consistency is key. Be sure to respect the guidelines for platforms such as Apple and Google. Icons, images, typefaces, and colour palettes should look cohesive and reflect your app’s unique brand. 

Plan for Portrait Mode

More than 82% of users hold their phones in portrait orientation while on video sites. Landscape orientation requires a two-handed hold for most people, and users will generally avoid this inconvenience, even if it means a diminished video experience.

Design for Fingers (and Thumbs)

Consider the size of your elements, and ensure they’re large enough to be tapped easily with a fingertip. Buttons and interactive elements should be positioned in a way that is easy for intuitive and natural access. 

4. Design for Mobile Devices

It may seem obvious, but it’s worth remembering that your mobile app should be designed specifically for mobile devices. This means thinking about how people hold and interact with their devices and designing with that in mind. 

Prioritize Speed

90% of users report that they have stopped using an app due to poor performance. 

Screen bounce rates refer to the number of users who abandon an app screen without taking action. Research has found that as page and load time increase, so do bounce rates. When load times increase from 1 to 3 seconds, bounce rates increase by up to 32%. And increases from 1 to 10 seconds can see bounce rates increase by 123%!

Ideally, your app will be lightning quick, but sometimes wait times and loading are unavoidable. Luckily, there are a few tips and tricks you can use to keep your users hooked:

  • Concentrate on loading content in the visible area of the screen 
  • Make it clear that content is loading and offer a visual distraction. A small animation that lets users know something is happening behind the scenes will hold their attention longer than a blank screen. 
  • Consider using skeleton screens to show how the content will look when it is done loading. Note that skeleton screens using slow and steady motion are perceived as shorter in duration than screens using more rapid movement. 

Plan for Interruption

Mobile users are on the go! With limited time blocks to interact with your app, it frustrates users if an app forgets their current progress the second it’s closed.

Take Advantage of Device Capabilities 

Mobile devices include tons of features, including cameras, location, and biometric authentication. Harness their power within your app. This can provide useful information for you on your users needs, while allowing your app to offer more services. 

Allow for Offline Use

In about 95 percent of emerging markets, users rely on prepaid mobile data, and many can only afford a limited amount of data per month. Users value transparency when understanding their data consumption. Providing users with the ability to control whether the products they use download over wifi or use mobile data can enhance the user experience.

Emerging markets are changing the demands on app developers. Shifting expectations means that it’s essential to pay attention to trends and requirements in emerging markets as you plan your app. 

Optimize Push Notifications

Over 50 percent of app users find push notifications annoying. And who can blame them? With many people using their mobile devices for work, school, entertainment, and socializing, it can be irritating to sift through seemingly endless messages and apps all vying for your limited attention. 

But that doesn’t mean you should avoid push notifications altogether. Personalization is key when it comes to the messages that users want. 

According to Localytics and Research Now, the top 3 most requested push notifications include special offers based on personal preferences, breaking news alerts, and new content based on preferences or location. 

Use email, in-app notifications, and news feed messaging to notify users about content that is personalized and relevant to them –but use it sparingly. Just 2 to 5 messages per week can cause 46% of users to disable push notifications because (let’s be honest) no one likes being nagged. 


5. Testing


Testing and quality assurance are two of the most important parts of the app design process. Quality assurance is a very important part of the app design process. Every aspect of your app should pass through thorough testing, and work smoothly on the devices and platforms you're targeting.

While your idea might look good on paper, seeing how it holds up in the real world is essential. No matter how well you know your target audience, an app that’s full of bugs will frustrate your users. 

Test early, and test often.

Early and frequent testing can help you detect bugs and other issues early, saving you time and money on maintenance costs down the road. Test for performance, security, and functionality to make sure everything is working the way it’s intended.

Early testing with a sample audience is also a great way to get feedback on your app. How does it perform in the real world? What features do users enjoy using? Use wireframes to test your app’s UI design. What aspects of the design cause confusion or irritation? 

The sooner you know what is and isn’t working about your app, the better. Major design changes are easier (and cheaper!) to implement early. But don’t stop there! Testing should be ongoing throughout the development cycle and after launch to make sure your app is keeping up with changing user expectations, software updates, and security measures.


A brilliant app concept is only the beginning. To engage users and keep them coming back for more, design should be a top priority. Users want simple, engaging, fast apps designed for real life. Design with that in mind, and you’re halfway there!

Got a great idea for an app, but not sure where to start? Let us know! Our design and development team can take the guesswork out of taking your app from a dream to a screen. 

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