4 Deadly Sins of Mobile App Design

4 Deadly Sins of Mobile App Design

Apps make our lives easier, from helping buy groceries to collaborating with our co-workers. With over a million apps in the iOS App Store and Google Play, it’s safe to say the app business is a very lucrative industry.

At Sourcebits we’ve launched hundreds of apps, 10 of which have been hand picked and featured by Apple. With thousands of new apps submitted every week, app design is the differentiator for success. As a Creative Director at Sourcebits, I’ve looked at thousands of apps in the past 7 years. Here’s a compilation of poor practices – 4 deadly design sins – that I often see in apps and my tips on how you can avoid them.

Sin #1. Ignoring Onboarding

Onboarding new users is harder than most app designers, developers and entrepreneurs think. Different users have various sets of expectations. What happens right after an app installation – that very first interaction when a user opens an app – makes or breaks a product.

Some users will expect you to welcome them and show them around with a tutorial. Others might prefer the app gets “out of the way” as soon as possible and lets them figure things out for themselves. How do you design for completely conflicting preferences? I’ve seen hundreds of apps that lose me at the first screen. Don’t force users to fill in long registration forms or to sign-in without showing them value. Don’t slow users down with animated splash screens or branding that blocks people from getting to their content.

Users want a clear path to completion. If your app offers users a structured set of steps, it helps reduce abandonment. For a new user to become an active one, they must experience early value from the application. Offer quick social logins (but don’t require them) to help get the mundane sign-in out of the way and make a smoother user engagement.

Sin #2. Overloading Features

A common mistake made too often, especially by first-time app developers, is packing too many features into their app. Edit, edit, edit. The most popular apps today are those that focus on a few things and do them really well. Developers have to know their target audience and empathise with their needs. Instead of spending time and resources building a buffet of mediocre features, focus on one Kobe-steak prime feature.

The core idea behind an app should be to simplify the life of your users while letting them focus on a few things that really matter. Cut down the functionality to only the most essential tasks. For example, I’m writing this article on iA’s Writer for iPad. iA could have easily packed it with a ton of cool writing features which many of us might have never used. Instead, they truly understand their audience, chose key features wisely and designed for primary user needs.

Sin #3. Designing Poor Touch Targets

Unlike cursor-based websites, mobile applications are touch based. That means design needs to accommodate fingers of all sizes and dexterity levels. If touch isn’t carefully considered during the designing of a mobile app, it can easily lead to user frustration and eventually user abandonment. An MIT Touch Lab study of “Human Fingertips to investigate the Mechanics of Tactile Sense” found the average width of the index finger is 1.6 to 2 cm (45 — 57 pixels) for most adults.

That means the average finger is wider than the minimum tap-friendly pixel dimensions mentioned by most mobile guidelines – so design bigger. Large tap areas also mean users are able to hit and reach targets faster. This is consistent with Fitt’s Law, which says that the time to reach a target is longer if the target is smaller.

Sin #4. Ignoring the Fold

Designers commonly refer to the fold (a term carried over from print design with newspapers) as the content visible on screen before you initiate a scroll. In the mobile app design industry, we’ve spent a lot of time convincing ourselves that the fold is dead and people know how to scroll. This is partly true. Mobile has captured a large portion of the web market. Apps still retain most content from their web counterparts – where a responsive, longer web layout has become common.

In native apps, we don’t mind having action items sit below the fold and allow users to scroll to reach it. But if you have a priority action or piece of information, placing it above the fold is important. I’ve seen conversions increase due to an obvious button placement. This is especially relevant for any actions related to generating revenue. Having a clear call to action above the fold in an e-commerce context helps define the next step, saving users time and energy. For an action that you don’t want people to take – or make inadvertently – put it below the fold. Having to scroll down to reach a delete button helps improve the user experience, as the destructive action can’t be easily mis-tapped.