With mobile being the biggest thing since, well, pretty much anything, and everyone rushing to make their fortune in mobile like the dot com explosion, how do you stand out from the crowd?

With Apple just surpassing the 700,000 app mark on the iTunes store, and Google Play about 100,000 apps ahead of Apple, you really have to ask yourself the question: what will make my app the one people talk about? Well it all comes down to what the app’s function is and then, what this article is all about, the UX design. Mobile UX designStupid question you might think, but if you’re anything like me, and you download and delete apps at a rate of about 6 a week, you’ll understand this question. There’s some really bad UX design out there that was slapped together to try and make a quick buck and really forgets the whole point behind app design.

Why is UX design important?

Apps are traditionally built for one reason – to fulfil an identified gap in the market, and this need needs to be fulfilled in the quickest, easiest, and most enjoyable manner possible. According to Wikipedia, UX design, or user experience design, is:

any aspects of a user’s experience with a given system, including the interface, graphics, industrial design, physical interaction, and the manual. In most cases, User Experience Design fully encompasses traditional Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) design, and extends it by addressing all aspects of a product or service as perceived by users.”

This is why UX is so important – it’s about captivating your user in the app and making the task of navigating and interacting with the information provided the best possible experience your budget can buy. Now note I said, “budget can buy”, because this is a factor that we cannot ‘discount’.

Budgeting for user experience

User-centred designWe all know that custom app development is not a cheap process, and if your client is working on a budget, one of the few places where we can cut costs is on the UX. You have to work smart most of the time to get the best possible UX money can buy. A bad UX will only lead to bad reviews and write-ups (if you even get any), as well as unsatisfied users. That’s a powerful word-of-mouth influence, and it can do huge damage to your brand. When you get the user experience right though, people will review and talk about the app with an equal amount of passion. When someone raves about a product or service, people take notice — a personal recommendation is a powerful thing. It’s always exciting to start working on a new app or web design project and we are always tempted to jump straight into Illustrator or Photoshop and start designing … but take a step back first and remember who you’re designing for – the user.

User-centred design

I follow these simple steps in my UX design process:

  1. Research. Find out if there are similar apps that have been designed for a similar task and see what they have done that works and what doesn’t.
  2. Personas. Identify who your user will be and try and put yourself in their shoes so you can identify their needs.
  3. Wireframes. Draw up some wireframes of your idea before you proceed to any computer-aided design; these will help you get the flow of the app designed in a much quicker manner.
  4. Feedback. Run some critique sessions on your wireframes so you can really trim the UX to a smooth and enjoyable process before spending time on doing the final product.
  5. User testing. Once you have a workable design, get people (ideally people in your user group) to test the app out and spot any possible user interaction that may be of concern.

App designIf you follow these easy steps, your app or web UX should always be of the highest possible quality.

Collaborate and test

I am a purebred designer and I understand what it feels like to have your design critiqued by the rest of your team. In the back of the designer’s mind is always the desire to just publish the project the way they initially conceived it because it was AMAZING! But that’s not the reality and you should be the first to take your ideas into a critique session. These sessions are invaluable, be they with the client, the rest of your team, or a potential user group. They provide you with the outsider’s point of view, the things you may have overlooked in trying to perfect the ultimate app design.These sessions should be run in-house with the client or user base, and personally I like having a designer and a developer leading these sessions as it helps keep the expectations of the app managed and limit the number of reverts the app ends up having. There are two very important methods to always remember during the UX design process – some have been touched on above but they are that important that I am going to mention them again.

Quantitative vs. Qualitative

Quantitive methods: These are measurable data that you may or may not be able to get your hands on to help inform your decision and include web/app analytics and survey reports. Qualitative methods: These are probably the most important in terms of actually moulding the experience your user has on your app or site. These come from the collaboration and testing sessions and provide you with the “why” of the user experience process. Why do people click on the image and not the read more button? Why does the user tap off the article to exit and not on the close button? These answers will be the glue that hold the app or site together. I hope this article has helped you get into the process of creating a better UX for your clients. In summary: collaborate, research, sketch and test. And remember, you are not the user!