When it comes to mobile apps, performance and usability are everything.
A user’s initial experience with your app can make or break your long-term relationship. AppDynamics reports that 86 percent of American app users (opens PDF) have stopped using an app due to poor performance.
Related: Use this UX research technique to gain deeper insights
Due in part to the strong impact of visuals, an app’s design affects how a user perceives the app’s performance and how they rate their overall experience. Even a casual app user can tell a bad design from a good one.
So how do we make sure we’re creating an app that our users will love?
It’s all about research
The hardest part of any project is knowing where to start, but research can help you kick things off with confidence.
“Even a casual app user can tell a bad design from a good one.”
The point of UX research is to ensure you’re staying on track at every stage of project development. It’s about observing and understanding your users, and using that knowledge to design a great app.
To begin, you need a clear understanding of the overall project: the app’s purpose, the target audience, the company’s goals, and the problem it’s trying to solve. This information forms the foundation of your build and is crucial to solidify before you start. From there, you can dig into the specific features that will give your target audience an optimal experience.
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A lot goes into executing this kind of research, and translating your findings into actionable insights is not always straightforward. But I’m here to show you how to put UX research into action and build an app that authentically speaks to your users.
Prioritizing the right features
An app’s long-term success is based on growing a user base that uses it day after day, month after month, year after year. Identifying the features that matter most to your users allows you to create an experience that’s optimized to solving their problems—and keeps them coming back for more.
Based on data you collect during UX research, you can create a prototype for observational testing (i.e. A/B testing). This puts your users in the driver’s seat: they can tell you which features are confusing, which parts seem disjointed, and more. These are priceless insights that can only be gleaned from test-driving the app.
Related: Who should conduct and observe design research?
InVision helps facilitate such prototypes, allowing your team to plan, collaborate, and test your app seamlessly. At MindSea, we use InVision on almost every project.
Testing the product with your users can also help uncover errors and issues that might otherwise be overlooked. That’s exactly what our team did for Postmedia when we redesigned their catalog of news and media apps.
Through user testing and qualitative data analysis, we discovered that users weren’t navigating to as many parts of the apps as the company would have liked. Rather than clicking from section to section, users were browsing headlines. The vast majority were in and out quickly, choosing to experience only small sections of the apps.
“An app’s long-term success is based on growing a user base that uses it day after day, month after month, year after year. “
This told us something specific: users were only concerned about the content. But they didn’t want to have to search for a good story; they wanted it to be easily accessible.
This led us to incorporate tab navigation—instead of the famous hamburger menu—to boost engagement.
A clear vision for your design team
One of the most underrated benefits of UX research is getting clarity on certain things before you get started.
Surveys, interviews, focus groups, and persona-building can all offer unique insights into your users’ mindset, like the style they’re likely to embrace or the feeling they want to have when they complete a specific action.
“One of the most underrated benefits of UX research is getting clarity on certain things before you get started.”
When designing an app for Adam Helps, we sat down with existing users to talk about their experience thus far. We discovered that they were averse to transactional sites like Craigslist and Kijiji. Instead, they wanted an app with a newer, more modern design.
Another good example is LuminUltra. They already had an app, but knew the design could still be improved. Before even attempting a redesign, we did one-on-one user testing with both existing users and those who had never used the app.
We learned what LuminUltra was doing well, and what they needed to improve, giving us a well-defined starting point. This allowed us to take a more informed approach to the new build.
Research is worth it
From observations and data collection to mock-ups and testing, UX research is detailed and often time-consuming—but it clears the path for a user-intuitive app.
We were thrilled with the final outcome of Pixeo’s app: it landed a featured spot in the App Store, and a significant part of its success was due to our commitment to UX research. We read support emails, reviewed comments on blog posts, and delved into app reviews to get as much user feedback as possible before we began.
Of course, part of building great apps is staying flexible, and an influx of feedback often leads to iterative changes. You have to be willing to make the tweaks necessary to get the app just right.
Listen, test, apply
It’s not rocket science: The more information you’re armed with, the better the final outcome will be.
If you want to be the best in your field, you’ve got to study. If you want to have the best product, you’ve got to listen, test, analyze, and apply what you learn to your product.
Want to learn more about app design? Read on:
by Bill Wilson
Bill Wilson is the founder and CEO of the mobile design and development studio MindSea, where he helps brands go mobile through creative mobile app solutions. Over the years, he's been a mentor to many entrepreneurs and a guest lecturer at universities discussing the power of mobile.