Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Alon Even—VP of Marketing at Appsee.
Developers, publishing houses and companies are all engaged in some form in a constant learning process that teaches them the best ways to create engaging and top selling mobile apps that will hopefully realize immediate success. There are also some common pitfalls that developers know of that they try to avoid entirely. Before you become a rock star app developer you should know about these mistakes. Not only should you know about these mistakes and stay away from them at all costs, you should also know about UI alternatives that will allow you to do what you want without turning off the user.
The Mobile App world is an entirely different animal than designing for the desktop and App publishers often do not have mobile UX designers on staff. Mobile apps only have a few seconds to grab and engage the user, so much attention must be given to those detailed, tiny interactions that can make or break the entire user experience.
The following are examples of mistakes to stay away from as well as examples of apps that do it right.
1.) Forcing Registration without Offering Value
When designing the UI of your app, ask yourself: If it was a web application you were designing would you force the user to register? If there is an internet connection you can just save all the user actions and connect it back using a session token and guest account. If there is no connection, today’s smartphones have plenty of storage to save the information for syncing at a later time when a connection is established.
The bottom line with this reasoning is that there is absolutely no reason to force a user to register for anything. Your app must show the user its value and prompts his/her engagement, so registration will be a natural action and not one that is forced. For Ecommerce apps, for example, it makes perfect sense to ask for billing info such as address and cc info upon checkout, but not to force the user to register before allowing them to see a single item and therefore demonstrating some value.
Consider the following examples. Both Pheed and Tumblr are social sharing platforms.
Pheed offers users only one option on the first screen and that is to register via social or via email, not offering the user any value before registering or real reason to register. This causes many users to just leave without registering.
Tumblr, which still does ask users to register, offers content that the user can engage with before registering, thereby offering value. There is a positive correlation between the value your app delivers and the registration rate, which will obviously be much higher with Tumblr’s app.
2.) Overloading with Unused Features
A common mistake made much too often, especially among app developers just starting out, is packing too many features into an app. The most popular smartphones on the market today come with some pretty slick features such as camera, GPS and accelerometer to name a few. Developers need to first know their audience. Who is the target? If you can think of one specific feature that you should build for your target audience what would it be? Focus on that. You can always build another app. There are enough things happening out there that more often than not distract the attention of users. Building your app with features that much of the time are seldom used can only hurt the success of your app and not the other way around. Think “less is more”. Aim to serve the immediate needs of the target audience.
The core idea behind an app is to simplify the life of users while focusing their attention on those few things that really matter. Cut down on the functionality of your app to only the most necessary tasks. If you have a desktop site, then see what the app is truly missing from the desktop version. Do they really need that? In an app? It might be surprising, but you’ll find that they often won’t notice anything missing. That is because it really isn’t needed.
Take a look below at Etsy’s and Macys’ mobile apps. Etsy’s design is less cluttered and much more attractive to the user. They know where to go as there are only a few focused options. Macy’s app is much too cluttered, distracting the user with an information overload.
If you must have features available to your users, the use of trays that slide in and out are a great way to accomplish this. This way, the screen is not cluttered and the user can get to the functions they need on demand.
Consider as an example the iPhone’s slide-up and slide-down trays which offer the user an array of secondary features.
3.) Not knowing your audience
When planning your app’s design, keep in mind who your target audience is. The largest group creating apps are aged 30-55, also known as Generation X. The largest demographics in the US are millenials (under 30) and Baby Boomers (Over 55). These demographics are not the ones developing the apps. It is important to know who exactly you are developing apps for. A 23 year old grew up in a different time than say a 56 year old, so their preconceptions of what makes a technology cool and easy to use are radically different. Features, content and interactions must be designed into the app with this in mind.
This concept goes further than just your physical audience. What about physical devices? If your audience mostly use the Android, porting your iOS app to work on the many different android devices might not be such a good thing as iOS users will feel like they are visitors to a strange land regarding usability as well as look and feel. Android users expect their app to look and feel like an Android app, not one that has been developed with the iOS user in mind.
Another example of a mistake is not knowing what content is useful to your audience. Say, you sell wall-to-wall DIY carpeting. You should know not only everything about your product, but how people go about shopping for carpeting? Do they nail it in at the corners? Do they use glue? By addressing their pain points and giving them the content they need you are creating a bond with them. By not knowing, you are pushing them away.
4.) Unresponsive gestures (taps, swipes, pinches, etc)
In designing your app to fit the many screens that smartphones have (especially with Android), you might come upon some user confusion regarding gestures they might be used to with other apps when using yours. Because gestures such as tilt, shake, double tap and rotate are still in their gestural infancy, it might cause some confusion when using your app which could frustrate the user. Additionally, for example, images you might feel convey just an image to users may be mistaken for action items that your users may try a number of ways to interact with. This can also lead to frustration and in many cases it can lead to users dropping the app entirely and moving on.
Gestures such as spreading and pinching might also seem to be natural to the user in order to zoom in on objects. However, when the dynamics are not set in a certain way, this can confuse the user. Different apps use different sets of rules, so something that is natural for a toddler app, will not work for an air flight reservation app.
For example rotating and tilting a device is used by a slew of apps to change the way things are viewed on the display. However, for reading applications it has become necessary to lock the screen so as to create a comfortable reading experience.
Let’s take a look at a screenshot directly from Appsee’s Mobile Analytics platform. Below is a screenshot from a shopping app and, as indicated by the Touch Heatmap feature, user’s are tapping many times on an image with no response from the app. This conflicts with the publishers’ desire for the user to be able to make an in-app purchase and highlights a critical usability issue, causing user frustration. Fixing this usability problem by allowing taps on the image itself and directing the user to the checkout screen dramatically increased in-app purchases for this customer.
Below is an example of a trending design that utilizes a slide gesture to enhance usability. It allows the user access to more options via a simple sliding of the finger. Facebook and Gmail use this slide gesture capability.
Apple’s remote app for the iPhone is a great example of showing clearly how to use gestures, preventing unresponsive ones so users can get what they want instantly. It does this via a short sliding tutorial to prevent confusion.
5.) First Time User Experience (Onboarding Experience)
Onboarding is considered by many to be the most difficult part of the user experience to design. Users all have different expectations. There is no more vital an area in designing the user experience than here. That is why you must constantly monitor for feedback and use app analysis to corner the problems. What makes your users continue using your app? What makes them cease? Checking twitter feeds, googling, and inviting feedback from your users, family, friends, co-workers is of paramount importance.
Some developers have big egos. All it would take for it to be knocked down a few pegs is recording a few sessions of a user experience. Often, the feedback gleaned from such analysis is so obvious, it results in no shortage of facepalms. Stay strong, learn how to take criticism, refine and watch your customer satisfaction and your user base increase.
By utilizing in-app analytics, you can analyze touch heatmaps and real user recordings that will identify the friction points in the user onboarding experience, help you increase engagement and keep your users coming back to your app.
Dropbox, with already 50 million users, provides an excellent onboarding experience by including the signup/in directly into the phone’s flow. While users set up their Android devices with a Google Identity, Dropbox is smack in the middle of the app screen.
If users have Dropbox accounts already, the app syncs their content to their device immediately, granting a reward to their users for signing in. Users also get complimentary 50GB of storage for up to two years for just signing in. See below.
See below for before and after onboarding shots for KickSend which is a great example. They originally designed a tutorial to onboard their users and started with a process that utilized 12 screens. This was way too much and caused users to drop off. The improved screen shown in the image directly below that one utilizes only 4 screens.