It’s not a secret that we spend a lot of time in front of screens. You’re probably switching between your phone and computer as you’re reading this. The number of smartphone users is constantly increasing and the importance of crafting user-friendly apps is getting essential for businesses, especially when we have the trends of mobile browsing in mind.
Custom apps are important, but it’s even more important to create an app that people will actually use regularly and not just forget after one launch.
Even though every development process can be different, there are some core rules in connecting with the audience and making a product worth putting out. In order to tie it together, you need to have the user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) under control. A good UX research process makes it easy for designers to understand what users expect from the app, while the UI provides a good way to get there clearly and simply.
Let’s take it one step at a time and figure out what makes an app user-friendly, what to consider while building it, and how to put it all together.
How do we define a user-friendly app?
Creating a (successful) app can be quite a journey, so we should start with defining our goal. There are some distinct characteristics that make for a good user-friendly environment.
The first keyword is “intuitive”. Your audience should find the app simple and easy to use. It shouldn’t be a challenge for them to find their way around.
Another building block that you need is reliability. Whether it’s an e-commerce app or something to pass the time while on the bus, the users don’t want it crashing mid-action or having bugs that slow the experience down.
In order to tie it together, you need to have the user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) under control. A good UX makes it easy for users to achieve what they expect with the app, while the UI provides a good way to get there clearly and simply.
We will explore the presentation part later on, but by understanding the foundations, you can start figuring out what both you and the users want from your app.
Planning the flow and preparing a prototype
Now that we know where we’re headed, you need to determine the type of your app and start putting down the layout.
You need to map the flow of your users’ actions and consider all the steps they’ll be taking. Take an e-commerce app as an example. There are some expected steps that a user will take:
- Opening the app
- Browsing the products
- Opening a specific product page
- Adding a product to the shopping cart
- Viewing the shopping cart
- Initiating the checkout
- Providing the billing information
- Confirming the payment
When you list out expected steps in this way, you will have a clear overview of the screens you need and the content needed to fill them out.
After you have these written down, it’s time to visualize everything. You should create a wireframe to help you navigate the process.
Prepare a storyboard and create mockups of connected screens to have a better idea of everything you need to put together to create a complete product.
If you can’t fit everything you had in mind into your app, it’s better to limit the number of options that you offer to the users than to give them a product that isn’t fully functional overall.
Focusing on a clear presentation
As we discussed earlier, simplicity and a though-out experience are key to creating a solid user-friendly app. With most of the apps you use there is probably a clear first step visible as soon as you launch. Who would want to use an app where you need to take a minute to figure out how to start browsing?
If you want to streamline the experience, you need to avoid clutter and make every action count.
People use their phones mostly when they are engaged in another, less divertive activity. Therefore, we must always approach their activities as something that is done rapidly, with no time to lose.
Design is of great importance here as you need to strive towards one-step action in your interface, filtering out all the unnecessary distractions on the way to the desired result. One of the examples to think about is placing the checkout on a single screen and using biometrics options instead of spreading it out to three steps.
There is often a desire to introduce various flashy elements to your app. Be it a cool animation or detailed shading, every feature you add increases development time, raising costs and impacting the overall process negatively.
Take the time to split the elements into essential ones and those that would be fun but you could do without. If we go to our e-commerce app example, there are some things you can’t do without:
- Product listing with photos and necessary information
- A shopping cart
- Payment processor and the checkout system
There are also elements such as filters that can certainly be included if you have enough resources. But when you lay it out like this, it becomes easier to scrap the things that you don’t need.
Of course, depending on the app you’re building, different elements stand out as important. That’s why you need to have your users in mind throughout the process.
Understanding your audience
User Research is a crucial step in building your app that is glossed over too many times due to tight schedules and lack of patience.
You need to get your app in front of people who are actually a part of your audience before you go live. Keep in mind that test users shouldn’t be the same people who are involved in the design and development process. When you have “fresh eyes” on your product, the changes you need to implement will become more obvious.
Track the ways they interact with the UI, how they navigate the app and if there are any roadblocks they come to in the process. All of the foundations should be put to the test here to get crucial insights.
When the beta testing is done, analyze the feedback and implement any needed changes before the big launch.
Moreover, to help your target audience better understand your business’s unique selling proposition, you can create a short video describing it. Impressive and creative 30-second explainer videos work best to attract and delight your prospects.
Making accessibility adjustments
When you go through testing phases, some issues come up that will feel obvious in hindsight. Considering some important UI elements before that you go into your last phase can save you some time:
- Can the interface be read in sunlight?
- How does it look while walking?
- Is the font big enough?
- Are the buttons and other clickable elements big enough?
However, the design is just a part of making your app as accessible as possible. Consider your audience once again and think about where they are. You need to be present on their preferred device, so take time to make your app compatible with various software to make sure you’re not limiting your reach.
This will also make it easier to bring your app to all relevant stores. If your goal isn’t exclusivity, prioritize compatibility.
Another factor that many developers forget is the offline experience. Try to reduce the gap between your app’s usability while connected and when there is no signal. One of your goals should be that the user doesn’t feel the difference.
Keep improving after launch
When you get all the elements in place, introduce your app in the popular stores and start promoting it through SEO and social media, the work is not quite done yet if you want your users to have the best experience possible.
Employ analytics to get insights into how users behave. When you have the data on how they interact with your app, you can work on introducing useful changes with future updates. Pay attention to errors logged, as those are a valuable asset to stay up and running.
Aside from analytics, direct user feedback is of great importance. Even with countless tests, there are some factors that can slip you. That’s why you should keep your hand on the users’ pulse so you can react and address their pain points in a timely manner.
Each update you introduce should address the things you gathered from your audience’s experience. By considering their opinion and making it public, they are far more likely to stick around and keep using the app daily.
Keep in mind that you can apply everything we’ve discussed to new features as well. Introducing new content from time to time can be a key to long-term success. It can also be a perfect moment to bring back some features you left out while prototyping because you didn’t have enough time.
Continue testing and engaging with your audience as you progress. Don’t forget to perfect your core concept first and keep all the additional content for later. Functionality should always come before aesthetics!
Lindsey Allard is the CEO of PlaybookUX, a video-based user feedback software. After seeing how time consuming and expensive gathering feedback was, Lindsey made it her goal to create a solution to streamline the user feedback process.