7 App Design Mistakes to Avoid

The one thing that all great app designs have in common is that you don’t notice how brilliant they are. You may use them frequently, but you probably haven’t stepped back and thought about why. However, if an app has problems, they are most certainly going to get your attention. And those problems are going to lead to lower engagement levels and a significant drop in user retention. So, if you want to keep your users coming back, it’s vital to avoid common design mistakes. 

All that said, it’s easy to get caught up with new design options, features and functionality. With so much choice available to designers, it can be tempting to make apps over complicated. However, the biggest challenge of all can be paring things back to the basics. After all, to build a great app, what you really need is an understanding of devices, an in-depth knowledge of your users and a willingness to continually learn. So, to help keep you on the right path, here are Seven design mistakes that you should try to avoid:

 

  1. Working in Isolation

As we’ve mentioned above, understanding your users is fundamental to building a great app. So, it stands to reason that working in isolation to them won’t get you off to the best start. You should always start any app design project by doing user research with your target audience. You need to understand who they are and the core problem they are facing if your app stands any chance of solving it. And, following that, you should work to make user experience pivotal to your design project, seeking feedback frequently, prototyping and testing, and continually iterating your design. 

 

  1. Making the Wrong Impression

The first look a user has at your app is similar to their impressions of a shop front. You want to entice them in with a design that appeals, but you also need to ensure that they find what they’re expecting when they walk through the door. When it comes to an app, that means using colours that align with the app’s purpose and ensuring nothing is dull or confusing. If that happens, you chance users leaving immediately and not giving the app a second chance. To avoid making a bad first impression, make sure that you display relevant information on the first screen with clear icons to key areas so they can easily navigate to the functions they are looking for. You’ll also want to ensure the app loads quickly and that you don’t give the user a chance to get bored or frustrated. 

 

  1. Ignoring the Thumb

When we use our mobile devices, we tend to hold them in a single hand and only use our thumbs to navigate. So, when it comes to apps, if we can’t do what we need to with our thumbs, the experience is going to feel cumbersome. To avoid making this mistake, it’s important to ascertain the area of the screen that will be accessible at various screen sizes. You can then optimise the design by ensuring that the most used elements are within the thumb zone. You’ll also want to consider the size of buttons; they need to be big enough that they are clickable with a thumb but not so big that they make the design unattractive. 

 

  1. Being Inconsistent

When it comes to using a mobile app, differences become difficult. We all have expectations for how apps will behave, and if they don’t display what we are expecting to see, we can be left confused and frustrated. The first level of consistency should be with apps and devices in general, if users expect menus to be found in certain places, for example, then trying to reinvent the wheel will only lead to confusion. The next level is with the overall brand; you need the app to be aligned with your website and offline elements. And, finally, the colours, typography, language and icons should be consistent on each page. If you use a non-standard set of design elements, you are going to make your app harder to use and your users may not stick with it. 

 

  1. Expecting Users to Go It Alone

In theory, apps should be intuitive so that users can achieve their goals without the need for explanation or guidance. However, as our apps, and the problems they are trying to solve, become increasingly complex, users often appreciate a steer in the right direction. Including a walkthrough as part of your app gives users an opportunity to quickly understand what functionality is available to them and what the app can do. However, it’s important to ensure any walkthrough is engaging, visually appealing and optional. If a user doesn’t want to do a walkthrough or changes their mind halfway through, you should always give them an out. 

 

  1. Requiring Too Much Brain Power 

When we use anything new, there is always a learning curve and the brainpower required is known as the cognitive load. When it comes to apps, without realising it, our brains will be processing the layout, the visual elements, the navigation and the actions we want to take. If there is too much to take in at once, at best it will slow us down, or we may even abandon the task, and the app, altogether. To help avoid cognitive overload, try to minimise the number of design elements on each page, keep copy concise and sequence information across multiple screens. 

 

  1. Including Too Many Features

No doubt you want to include some exciting features in your app. However, putting them before functionality is a fast route to failure. With too many features, your app will become overly complex, cumbersome and may well become slow to load too. To avoid using unnecessary features, you should try to focus on the core purpose of your app. This will allow you to weed out cool features that don’t actually fulfil that purpose. By only including features that deliver value, your app will be more powerful, user-friendly and functional. 

 

Can You Improve Your App Design?

If users download your app, it’s because they want to use it, but if you don’t make a good first impression and enable them to easily achieve their goals, they are going to quickly move on. While many of the mistakes we’ve listed may seem obvious to read, they are easy to make when you’ve got your head stuck into the design process. If you can step back and take note of the mistakes to avoid, then you’re much more likely to design something that is useful and has the power to make a difference to your users. 

 

In summary, here are some key design mistakes to avoid:

  • Not focusing on the user – your users should be central to the design process from research to testing and continual iterative design. 
  • Not making it thumb-friendly – most users hold their phones in one hand and navigate with their thumbs, you need to ensure that key elements are accessible.
  • Not being consistent – users have expectations in terms of apps in general, your brand and your style, ensure that you deliver a standard set of design elements. 
  • Not offering a walkthrough – while your app should be intuitive, providing an engaging walkthrough to give them a steer in the right direction. 
  • Not keeping it simple – by minimising design elements, content and features, you can ensure everything in your app is focused on its core purpose.
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About the author

Michael Ridland is the Co-CEO and Founder of Xam Consulting.

Design-led problem solving delivering digital solutions.

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