Why User-Centric App Design Leads to Success

March 25, 2019

It’s hard to predict a mobile app’s success, but entrepreneurs can maximize their apps’ appeal by investing in a customer-centric design strategy before development begins.

The success of a mobile app is more likely to depend on customer experience than any of its specific features.

In my role as CEO of a product development agency for more than a decade, I’ve seen great app ideas that worked on paper but didn’t deliver in the real world. It’s no surprise that users evaluate apps by how accurately and effortlessly their expectations are met.

In this article, you’ll learn best practices for mobile app UX that will help you understand how to create a winning strategy for your mobile app.

Why Mobile UX is Different from Web UX

Most beginner entrepreneurs struggle to understand how mobile users differ from desktop users.

When designing a mobile app, the primary goal is to optimize all experiences in the interface to accommodate the way users navigate it – by tapping.

For instance, if a CTA button doesn’t have the proper dimensions it won’t be easily ‘tappable,’ which brings confusion or aborted action on the user’s part.

To provide great mobile UX, your app should have finger-friendly buttons or tabs with:

  • A touch area of 7-10 mm, according to UX Pin
  • Space in between buttons
  • Well-defined margins

These elements will ensure that your app is easy for users to tap, scroll, and engage with.

Additionally, you should test your app before releasing it by asking questions like:

  • Can the user reach all elements of my interface while swiping up and down, or left to right?
  • Does the UX work for both left- and right-handed users?
  • Is my key content reachable – and readable – within the central part of the screen?

The answers to most of these questions will be covered if your app functions within the “natural thumb zone,” an area that covers one-third of a mobile device’s screen. It’s the surface over which a user’s thumb doesn’t need to stretch or change grip.

Here’s how it looks like on different iPhone screens:

The "natural thumb zone" on iPhones

Source: scotthurff.com

CTA buttons like “Subscribe” or “Try It” should be placed within the green area.

Conversely, actions like “Delete” should be placed in less reachable parts of the screen. This way, users are less likely to trigger an accidental action that could lead to aborting the key task they should perform inside the app.

For example, we used these design principles while creating Gobu, an on-demand platform developed in React Native, the framework used to create apps for both Android and iOS. Users can browse according to the type of service they need – such as sports venues, salons, and many more.

Notice how the slider section is placed in the natural thumb zone, with the arrow located within the thumb’s reach so it is easily accessible at all times.

The slider is in the natural thumb zone.

Other actions users can take within the platform such as favoriting, scheduling an appointment, and adjusting profile settings are also easily accessible from the right side of the screen – still within the natural thumb area.

This design finds a convenient compromise between prominently displaying the main menu features and giving the navigation as much screen space as possible.

Once users schedule an appointment, the UX remains optimized for the natural thumb area.

The appointment scheduling feature remains in the natural thumb zone.

The central elements, including session duration, preferred time, and number of participants, are located at the center of the screen. This way, users can easily complete their request using just one slider.

App developers can use these tips to optimize UX for iPhone or Android.

Overall, entrepreneurs should keep user experiences specific to mobile devices in mind while designing their apps.

Top 3 User-Centric Design Elements

There are 3 key user-centric design elements you should be aware of while developing your app:

  1. Interactive design
  2. Minimalism
  3. Neuro principles

1. Use Interactive Mobile App Design

Interactive interfaces are a hot topic among mobile app designers.

In this approach, a mobile app interface should provide meaningful experiences based on key concepts such as user control, personalization, responsiveness, or real-time interaction.

The easiest way you can achieve an interactive interface is by including animations such as:

  • Visual markers of progress
  • Transitions between different steps in the flow
  • Markers of a user’s place within the context of your app, especially during lags or wait times

For example, markers of progress can be made more interactive, as presented in a post from web design platform Codrops:

Animated gifs can engage users.

Notice how this download progress bar is not the usual straight line. Instead, it’s built on the effect of an elastic movement, while also keeping the download percentage visible.

These design elements help app providers offer the highest level of responsiveness a user expects from a mobile experience.

2. Use Minimal Design, But Include Visual Cues

Since mobile users are looking to get to the desired outcome in as few steps as possible, minimalism should be the guiding principle of your approach with app UX.

Each mobile app page should contain a single main action.

Next, base your design on the principle of least effort. For example, users who are navigating your login screen might perceive it as a burden if it requires too many fields or steps, increasing the risk of abandonment.

A minimal interface can reduce the risk that your app will overwhelm users, but make sure you don’t go overboard. Some common missteps include:

  • Hiding the menu on certain pages
  • Not letting the users know where they are inside your app
  • Adding hidden navigation elements

Not only do hidden menus or gesture-based navigation almost double the ‘discovery’ time on a platform, but they also extend the time a user needs for task completion.

Similarly, top/bottom or sidebars are still the solution most users are familiar with, so unless you know for a fact your audience values UX innovation, stick to the tried-and-tested option.

Minimal design should make your app easier to use – not more confusing.

3. Use Neuro Design Principles

To meet a user’s expectations, you have to understand how their mind will react to stimuli.

This is what is called neuro design, the research branch dealing with “basic principles of vision, memory, and decision.”

Key neuro design principles include:

  • Fear of Missing Out: Builds the feeling of scarcity, this approach triggers users’ actions.
  • The Contrast Principles: Used in sales campaigns, these principles are based on how the human mind evaluates comparisons while making decisions.
  • Illusion of Control: These functionalities allow users to have increased control over the usage of the app, such as custom filters, different delivery options, or customizable payment plans.
  • The Paradox of Choice: When there’s an overload of available choices, the cognitive effort is too high and more users will abandon an app or task. This principle emphasizes that decision-making should be intuitive.

All of these approaches help re-engage users’ fickle attention spans.

This strategy is called “design for interruption.” It helps users pick up where they left, addressing their fear of missing out while also fueling their feeling of control.

For example, Memrise, a language learning app, uses a ‘design for interruption’ approach. When users return to the app after time away, they’re reminded of their progress:

Memrise is designed for interruptions.

The app shows where you are within the learning process, making it very easy to visually assess progress.

Users can also see an overview with progress bars for all levels of the courses they’re taking.

The progress bars help users find their place again.

This gives them a better sense of control through engaging visual cues.

Neuro design principles provide accessible design elements that deliver better mobile UX.

For Maximum Success, Sync Design With the Development Timeline and Objectives

If your app contains development blunders, they will be visible in your app’s user interface. To avoid mistakes, you should begin with precise estimates, establish a clear vision, and stick to thoughtful design.

Start your planning process by considering all the stages of the development process for a multi-platform mobile app to React Native. We use a template like this:

Gantt charts help companies sync objectives.

You can see that the development process takes the most time – but first, designers must create a prototype and the user interface in order to guide it.

If you want your app to be successful, you should begin to plan it before beginning development. While micro goals and minor adjustments will change along the way, but they should be synced to the development process.

Strategize for a User-Centric Product: Key Approach for 2019 and Beyond

Designing a successful mobile app for success is the sum of many factors including the quality of development, depth of market research, solidity of the business model, and the inclusion of disruptive features.

Each of these elements, however, should be implemented with customer experience in mind.

Entrepreneurs whose apps prioritize user experience will have an edge in the incredibly competitive landscape of mobile apps. The key is to form clear goals before you begin developing your app to building a customer-centric experience into your app’s foundation.


About the Author

Paul Chirila HeadshotPaul Chirila runs Around25, a product development agency that has been upping the ante in full-stack web and mobile development for the past 13 years. Being a self-made entrepreneur, Paul has grown 5 startups, which led him to share his business know-how within ReadyForStartups - a local community powering up Romanian initiatives.

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