Thanks to living in a world where technology is increasingly present in our day-to-day lives, one of the biggest misconceptions about the average user is that they are more tech-savvy. The truth is that technology (both hardware and software) is heavily-streamlined for its purpose.
When developing your app, you will need to be aware of what users expect from their experience with it: instant intuitiveness, flawless operation, and an attractive user interface. These principles should serve as the foundation for any approach to modern app design, and likewise they should constantly be within your periphery in every phase of the design process.
The knock-on effect of this is that ease of use often means making compromises. As a general example, think about iTunes; Apple created a proprietary method of transferring music to portable music players, but for years after introducing it there were always complaints from tech-users about its convolutedness.
The price for making your app as straightforward to use as possible is often lots of time spent designing the interface, refining its operation, and trimming the loose edges until you have something which is as efficient as possible for the end-user to operate.
Accordingly, there are certain specific design principles which you should try to incorporate into your app, including:
Upon being faced with your general UI, the user should understand exactly how to make the app perform the user he or she desires. If not, it shouldn’t take more than 10 seconds to deduce its basic functions and how to achieve them.
Amazon’s Kindle app is a great example of this; despite having a fairly unique layout, there are only so many options on the screen. If the user isn’t sure what to do, they can deduce what each of the on-screen icons do. After clicking the “hamburger” icon in the top-left, the process of searching for books and syncing to their Kindle account is extremely straightforward.
A cluttered interface can create the impression of a poorly thought-out design. Likewise, too many options can confuse the user. Try to use negative space to your advantage, so that the user is only seeing the content and options that they need to see at any one time.
Take a look at the Fox 26 Radar app further down the article to see the unattractive effect of cluttered design for yourself.
3. Large Icons and Buttons
Large icons and buttons are a fantastic way to ensure that your interface is as clear as possible. They also encourage swapping of space, so that you don’t have everything on the screen at one time – this can help with the above point (spacing).
The Dropbox app is a perfect example of this. Every screen has had its options skimmed so that you’re only seeing what you absolutely need to. This allows the app to present large, clear icons to the user.
4. Strong Aesthetic
You should try to make use of consistent shapes, colors, and especially themes throughout your design. You want the interface to appear unified and polished, rather than thrown-together as an afterthought.
If you take a look at the TuneIn app below, you’ll see that the icons consistently use a sleek and attractive design-style. The end result is a much more inviting experience for the user.
5. Ease of Access
Perhaps the most important attribute is ease of access. From any screen in the app, the user should generally be able to get to whichever option they desire in 3 motions (or taps). If too much effort is required in navigation, it may be time to take the design back to the drawing board.
Dropbox, TuneIn, and Kindle all allow for efficient movement within the app so that – even though each screen is designed concisely and with a minimal number of options on screen – the user can still easily reach any desired option with as much ease as possible.
Shining Examples of Intuitive App Interfaces
In order to emphasize the elements of a well-done design, let’s take a closer look at these apps.
Dropbox is my one-stop-shop for cloud storage needs. I use the app on a regular basis to access music which hasn’t been synced to my iPhone yet, and also to access my articles, notes, and so on.
Wherever I am in Dropbox, I can easily access any file in 2 or 3 motions. If I need to see my favorites, they’re always available via the star button at the bottom of the screen. Likewise, if I need to add an item to my favorites, email it, move it, or trash it, I can easily do this by swiping left on the filename and then selecting the desired option.
Another of my favorite app interfaces is the one found in TuneIn Radio. I use TuneIn daily, and love that I can start listening to any radio station in a matter of seconds. Immediately upon logging in, I can search for a radio station by name, browse locally, listen to my most recently-used station, check out which ones are trending, or begin browsing by category.
Once I find a station I like, I can click the heart icon to add it to my favorites, ensuring that it is only ever a few taps away in future sessions. Generally speaking, no matter where I am in the TuneIn app, I am never more than 3 taps away from where I want to be. The buttons and icons are well-spaced out, their function is clear, and the navigation and use of the app is intuitive and user-friendly.
Rue The Design
In terms of poor design choices, I think that the Houston Weather – Fox 26 Radar app is a good example of what not to do. As you can see from the screenshots, the app has a poorly thought-out interface which combines too much detail, too many options, a pretty ugly color scheme, and intrusive ad placement across the top of the screen.
While there is a case for giving the user adequate choices in how they use the app, it should never come at the expense of an attractive design. Anyone using it can feel overwhelmed by the amount of selections available.
The Balancing Act: Usability vs. Clarity
When designing your app, you should try to maintain a balance between usability and clarity. While this can be difficult to achieve when working with such small screen-estate, often reworking your initial design can allow you the opportunity to minimize your interface’s presence.
You should be mindful that your app’s design – good or bad – will be something that the end-user has to constantly interact with when they are using it. All of the examples (minus the Fox app) show thoughtfully-designed interfaces which allow for an almost instant, effortless understanding as soon as you launch them.
Remember that, in order for your app to resonate with users easily, it will need to be attractive, consistent, and easy to operate. Ensuring that these factors are implemented in the most basic design stages will ensure that your app is received as best as possible by users and, subsequently, how well it performs in the real world.