11 Mobile App Design & Dev Principles Guaranteed to Engage Users, Optimize Experience, and Drive Conversions


It was not that long ago that software developers actually turned real profits

through shrink-wrapped CD cases on shelves. Yet that time feels like it was

in the Mesozoic.

Why? Because we are deep into the “mobile first” age. Mobile apps are the

primary means by which software gets into the hands of consumers and

forms their relationships with businesses. This is generally a two-way

exchange in which an app provides value for users – usually at little to no

direct cost – and through quick scaling the business on the other side of the

deal can monetize the result. This is as true for indie games developers as it

is for huge big-box stores that use mobile platforms to drive more in-person


This means that mobile app design principles are now inseparable from

business success strategies. We will present to you 11 of these core

principles and how they are crucial for driving dollars your way.

1. Your App Needs a Clear Purpose

The purpose of an app should be clear from its name, its online description,

its aesthetics, its UX – in short, every aspect of it should be focused on a

goal. It should follow with the remarkably successful principle of “do one

thing, and do it well.” Whether its purpose is ecommerce, content delivery,

community engagement, or something else entirely, it should focus on a

core target user (one that is generally trying to solve a specific problem) and

every aspect of it should be wrapped around engaging that user.

2. Your App Can Only Achieve Its Secondary Goal If It has Nailed

Its Primary One

Only if you hold true to the principle listed as number 1 can you then fulfill

the “other” purpose of the app. If users are not finding value in their app,

they will not reciprocate much value to you. The canonical example of this

is mobile games. Only games that give users a great deal joy, challenge, and

engagement also compel them to make in-app purchases.

3. Revenue Model

Most of us like to think that all an app has to do is rank highly and it will

automatically rake in income. This model is short-sighted and is generally

one of the major factors that leads to an app being a flop. Without a clear

strategy, one that permeates its whole design and function, the app will

never generate profits.

Models need not be complex (nothing about an app should really be

complex) but you must keep in mind that your model will inform your goals

for the app. Do you intend to generate ad revenue? Then the app should be

free, solve a very general problem, and feature advertisement in a way that

is unobtrusive as possible. Will it have in-app purchases? As mentioned in

principle number 2, it must be firing on all cylinders with the the user,

providing them with so much value that they will be happy to pay for the

“power ups.”

4. App UX, Color and Iconography

The first thing that will lead a user to your app is whether or not it fits the

search terms of whatever problem he or she is trying to solve. The first

thing that will cause a user to abandon an app is poor UX and overall


Bad UX inherently means a bad app, no matter how potentially useful or

powerful its feature set. The purpose of an app is to impart convenience,

and an app that feels like a clunky public library search terminal from the

mid-90s is nothing but an inconvenience.

However, color and iconography are also important. The psychology of

color in design and the commercial space is a topic that predates the digital

age but its rules are timeless. This issue of iconography is not merely a

choice of aesthetics because an icon is a navigation shortcut. It allows you

to communicate functionality more efficiently and in a way that keeps

design flow. You must then be careful about icon choices. For example, it is

very likely that the “save icon” will change within a few years – a growing

number of computer users were born after we retired floppy disks.

5. App navigation and search

Once again, the purpose of an app is to impart convenience. When a user

loads the app, will it take significant time before he or she can navigate it?

Are the critical functions self explanatory and can the user find them with

just one swipe or touch? Would the app benefit from an intro tutorial as

almost every game these days provides? If the app has a larger than normal

set of functions or content, is there a convenient search bar (with fast

response times) that can prevent the user from getting lost?

6. Crisp and well defined data structure and flow. No

unnecessary data.

We like to marvel that the mobile devices of today are much more powerful

than the computers that took us to the moon, but compared to larger

devices they still have restrictions on processing speed and bandwidth. This

means that designers must pay very careful attention to the data flow of the

app. They can not afford to load, process, and display superfluous data.

This can also be considered part of UX: the app does not have resources to

process unnecessary information, and your users do not have the patience

to sift through data that they do not care about.

7. Commerce and Conversion

Users have been interacting with web commerce for some time, thus we

have been able to identify factors that help drive commerce and conversion

and apply them to the mobile realm. This insight guide from Google

outlines several of these strategies:

● provide previous search and purchase information,

● allow user reviews to be viewed and filtered,

● enable comparison shopping features,

● provide multiple third-party payment options

● make it easy to add and manage payment methods.

8. Tracking and Analytics

One advantage that mobile commerce gives us compared to old-fashioned

commerce is that devices provide us with a great deal of information about

the habits and characteristics of users. We will generally know where,

when, and how a user is engaging with our apps. There are even systems to

identify the “hot spots” that receive all of the swipes and touches within an

app. All of this information is crucial to the success of an app and you

should use it – ideally with the help of advanced analytics – to refine your

app and hone your future strategy.

9. Marketing and related tracking

Apps may be tracked and ranked on public marketplaces, but simply

launching it as a “fire and forget” into an app store rarely ever yields good

results. There is also a role for conventional marketing in the success of

your app. This includes websites with strong landing pages, social media

engagement, and even old-fashioned human promoters armed with flyers

at conferences or festivals. In each of these cases, it is still important to

measure how many conversions you are getting for your dollars, whether it

is by tracking click-through or by measuring how many subscribers you can

get on to an email list.

10. Product roadmap and releases

A 2015 study showed a pretty striking fact about mobile app retention: after

just three days of the initial install, the average app loses 77% of its users .

Furthermore, Pokemon Go is arguably the greatest app success story in

history. However, it has lost over 10 million users since its release, and

those that have not yet abandoned it are showing a large drop in


What we can take from this is not enough just to get an app to market.

Audiences are fickle and in order to have sustained success with an app you

can’t allow it to be a weekend novelty. You must have a product roadmap

that keeps the application fresh. It should evolve in capabilities (while

taking into account feedback collected from user testimonials or

engagement data) in a series of releases spaced only weeks apart. One

analysis showed that leading iOS apps put out a new version every 30 days

on average.

We mentioned “do one thing, and do it well” as a principle of success. That

is largely borrowed from the Unix/Linux world, where it has served very

well. There is another such principle from that world that also applies to

app design – fail fast. When there is a condition that can cause application

failure, it should be immediately reported up while stopping execution.

While users do not necessarily like crashes, this favorable to the alternative.

It is much less annoying than an application that appears to work but

slowly builds inconsistencies that degrade performance (and app store

ratings) while possibly propagating corrupt data all the way to a production