Future-Proof Your App by Following these Design Principles

As with anything related to technology, design practices come and go. So, while you might want to get with the times and include some fancy functionality, what you really need to do is to ensure that your app can stand the test of time. Ultimately, as important as the tech behind your app is, the way that it looks and feels supersedes it. This is why the user experience (UX) is so important. If you have a well-thought-out design, you will be able to attract, engage and retain more users. And that gives your app much more chance of sticking around into the future. 

Why Apps Become Redundant

While some reasons for updating or changing or application designs can be foreseen, others are entirely unpredictable. And, unfortunately, many of the unpredictable factors are beyond our control. Emerging and evolving technology can change specifications, requirements and standards. And changes to the business can shift the product and service offering, making the design dated or unfit-for-purpose. 

With such a rapidly evolving technological landscape, it’s understandable that designers may ask themselves how they can possibly keep up. However, rather than being able to see into the future, what we need to do is to use enduring principles that will be able to transcend whatever technology brings next, and whatever industry trend or fashion is leading it. The trick is in focusing on user experience, building solutions that have flexibility and room to scale and ensuring designs are always consistent. If we can achieve that, then they are much less likely to become reductant. 

How to Increase the Longevity of Our Designs

If we want our designs to be able to stand the test of time, we need to incorporate certain principles into our workflow and way of thinking. These principles ultimately make it less likely that changing technology and requirements will cause big changes as time moves on. While this isn’t an exclusive list, the following design principles are most certainly a good starting point. 

  1. Do Your Research

No application is going to stand the test of time if you haven’t done your research first. You need to have a deep understanding of your users and the problems they are facing if your app stands a chance of solving them. Only then can your research move forward to finding appropriate methods and options for the solution. 

  1. Put Your Users First

A user-first approach doesn’t just apply to the research phase, it should be integral to the whole design process. It’s easy to get caught up with analytics, USPs and KPIs and forget that what every application is actually doing is solving a problem for its users. Users don’t care about the finer details; they care about the big idea, the issue at the core of the design and how your application is going to make life easier for them. You need to be able to explain what your app does in simple terms, that anyone can understand if it is going to be successful. Humanise everything you do, and you’ll be in with a chance of making a more permanent connection. 

  1. Be Wary of Trends

It can be easy for app designers to get caught up with the latest fad and short-term trends. However, if a trend hasn’t been proven to work as yet with reliable results in terms of user experience, it isn’t worth taking the risk. While it might make your application feel extremely current in the moment, trends can impact performance and accessibility over time and lead your design to fail. You should try to predict where trends are going and whether they might have traction. And if you do incorporate a new trend, we need to make sure that it is not to the detriment of user experience itself.  

  1. Use the Right Patterns 

Design patterns should be established, accepted by the mainstream and intuitive for your users in the context of what you are creating. While original design patterns can work too, they carry much more risk in terms of design longevity. That’s why you should ensure that design patterns are carefully considered and are never incorporated to the detriment of user experience. If that happens, you are likely to make the user interface (UI) unsustainable in the long-term. 

  1. Adopt Systems Thinking

Users won’t necessarily see your application as its own entity; it will form part of a bigger system. Firstly it will be one of many applications they use. Secondly, it will form part of your company’s product ecosystem. So if you have an app, a mobile website and a desktop website, while they should each serve their own purpose, they should work together to make each other stronger. If your design can build connections and deliver meaning, it will be useful for far longer. 

  1. Make it Consistent and Scalable

If you have a complex UI and many designers are involved, it can be easy to lose consistency. However, without consistency, you make it much harder for the UI to adapt and grow. Components should always be introduced that follow system or logic. After all, how well organised your UI is will affect how well it can grow. You need to include this long-term thinking especially as any inconsistencies you do include will grow over time and make the whole thing harder to maintain. To help achieve consistency, consider using a modular architecture, building a style guide and ensuring future components will be easy to integrate. 

  1. Avoid Making Assumptions

While you naturally will need to make some assumptions during a design project, they shouldn’t be used instead of reliable data. Going with your gut and trying to be creative and original can land you in problems later down the line. So while it might seem more time-efficient and practical at the time, it very rarely is in the long-run. Ultimately, every assumption will introduce a fragility and a way that the UI could break. If you are going to take risks, let it be with minor changes and aesthetics rather than areas that affect the core usability and functions of the app. 

Will Your App Stand the Test of Time?

Designing for an uncertain future can seem like a daunting prospect. However, avoiding the prospect will lead to more work and cost down the line. If your app is going to stand the test of time, you need to try to not only anticipate which trends will be here to stay but ensure that design elements are intuitive, consistent and scalable. And, instead of prioritising and investing in new features, you need to make sure that the ones that are there perform as users expect them to. So, while nothing lasts forever, your designs will be able to evolve and continue to deliver the best possible user experience, whatever the future holds. 

In summary, here are some design principles that can help increase the longevity of your app:

  • Research first – understanding the problems your users face is fundamental if your app stands a chance of solving them long-term. 
  • Prioritise users – focusing on user experience rather than analytics and KPIs will help your design to make a more permanent connection. 
  • Watch out for trends – the latest design trends can end up impacting performance and accessibility over time, don’t take the risk unless there are reliable results. 
  • Incorporate established design patterns – design patterns should be established, accepted by the mainstream and intuitive for your users.
  • Use systems thinking-  every app forms part of a wider product ecosystem. Ensure systems work together, so your design builds meaningful connections. 
  • Be consistent – ensure components follow system or logic and are well organised; this will help you to achieve consistency in the long-run. 
  • Assume nothing – while it may save you time initially, siding with assumptions over data can introduce fragility into your app and eventually cause it to break.
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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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