It’s likely while discussing app design perspective that you’ve heard UI/UX mentioned at some point. UI stands for User Interface and UX for User Experience. These concepts are important to the success of your app, and go hand in hand. However, as a developer, unless you’re wearing multiple hats, the UI side of UI/UX won’t be your primary concern. That’s for the graphic designer to create.
Instead, you’ll be focused much more on the UX side. After all, it’s the code that makes the UI "pop," so to speak. App developers want the end user to gain the maximum benefit from their app in the easiest and most user-friendly way possible. So what UX considerations should you plan to make during the development process?
Deciding Which Features Are Important, and Which Aren’t
One of the first things to settle is what is absolutely necessary for the end user to have a positive experience with your app. Unlike the desktop, where it is fairly easy to expose the array of functionality of your application within the UI, screen space is at a premium on a mobile screen.
If your mobile app is an extension of a web or desktop-based app, it is safe to assume that the end user is likely going to turn to the latter for more complex tasks. Focus your mobile app on more generalized ones, tasks easily completed on a smaller screen. Some apps might be able to squeeze the breadth of their features into a mobile app, but in most cases, you’ll have more than you have space for.
VoIP service Zadarma is a good example of this. The company prides itself on being fully customizable, and does a decent job in packing its app with functionality that its users expect.
Creating Logical, Straightforward Workflows
Because of the small screen, most activities on a mobile app will need to be split across several screens. Here again, you’ll want to spend time on thinking out easy-to-follow workflows for user actions. It should feel usable, and he or she should be able to anticipate what comes next.
An e-commerce workflow is a perfect example. From the initial product screen, the user should be able to tap to view a detailed product screen, then a customization screen if necessary, then to the cart, and then to checkout. Of course it’s wise to offer an out such as ways to return to the initial product screen to order more products and so forth, but those detours should eventually lead back to a single primary workflow.
Mastering this goes far in giving the impression of ease of use to your user: just take stock trading app Robinhood as an example. Its workflows for buying and selling stock are simple and to-the-point. A first time user has no problem figuring out how to use the app’s primary features.
Maximize Utility, Minimize Superfluity
Some developers, when looking at UI/UX, arguably focus too much on standing out – and this typically comes through in the form of making some user actions more than just a tap. There is an inherent danger of doing this, and that’s in causing confusion over how to use the app itself. Users are accustomed to swipes and taps in mobile app operation. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel.
Mimic actions commonly found in the app OS. iOS uses swiping left and right on UI objects to expose further features. Maybe here’s where you’ll be able to fit in some of the functionality that didn’t make the initial cut. But the point is, the user expects it there.
I’d again point to Robinhood’s UI and UX. The interface is utilitarian, giving traders the basic information they need to buy and sell stocks, and an easy method for doing so within the app. There’s no bells or whistles, just the basics of what the consumer is looking for.
Educate Your User
While we’ve just stressed about leaning more heavily on familiar gestures and actions to minimize confusion, there are going to be times where that is just not possible. It is vital to the user experience that you don’t send the end user searching through support documentation to figure it out.
Use the splash screens when your app first loads to expose the user to the basics of how your app works. You might also consider guiding the user through first use so that the initial experience – the most important – is a successful one.
Photo app ImageIn does just this. Its professional photo retouching app is something completely new to the App Store, so consumers may not understand what exactly they can do. The splash screens at app launch explain the service, and what users can ask the retouchers to do, increasing the chance of a good first impression.
Make Your App Usable With One Hand
Finally, we often overlook the fact that mobile device use is primarily a one-hand experience. While some need two hands to operate a device, traditionally only the thumb is used (half of all mobile devices users are said to use phones in this way). The features of your app, and how you interface with them, need to primarily focus on this method of navigation.
Remember, there are in-OS features – for example iOS’ double tap on the home button to slide the app down to allow for the thumb to reach features at the top of the screen – which will assist you in making UI elements accessible. This is one area where both the UI and UX teams will need to work closely on.