By John Houghton on July 18, 2013
More than anything you should consider mobile usability when designing an app. There is nothing worse for an app than having a user try to figure it out, get frustrated, and then leave a low rating or bad review. It only takes a few of those to ruin your rating and banish your app to the bottom of the heap.
While mobile usability may seem simple and intuitive, it takes a lot of expertise. It’s similar to the example of the Olympic athlete and how effortless they make their feats appear. Good apps make it look easy, but it took a lot of work to get there. Apple says:
“In our experience, users really respond to polish, both in functionality and user interface. Go the extra mile. Give them more than they expect. And take them places where they have never been before.”
– Apple, App Store Review Guidelines
Apple writes a wonderful document called the iOS Human Interface Guidelines. They update it regularly, and many UI/UX (User Interface/User Experience) designers regard it as their bible. I recommend downloading the PDF version. The Android Design principles are also very good.
A good starting point for mobile usability is to look at other apps in your category. Try out some of the highly usable apps, then try some of the low rated apps. When you look at the poorer quality apps, try to identify what the main user experience problem is and how it can be fixed. Sometimes it can’t be fixed if perhaps it’s an app idea that’s too complex for the current devices and market.
One thing I like to do is create wireframes for existing apps. It doesn’t matter if you sketch it out or do it in design software. To see the whole app in one view can really lend insight. Sometimes when I’m sketching out a poor quality app, I notice that the user can easily get lost because the screens don’t have names, or the navigation conventions are inconsistent throughout the app for no logical reason.
Another very useful activity is mobile usability testing. Put the app in front of your friends and see if they can use it, or where they get stuck. On the higher budget end we do this in a lab with video cameras, but you can still learn a lot by watching someone use it in front of you while they think out loud.
An app designer learns recipes for solving various functionality issues, so you want to be with one that has a lot of experience. The more recipes they have, and the more time you spend refining the user experience, the more usable your app will be.