Where to start on app design

Design
Mariel Lettier

Mariel Lettier

App design is an incredibly important part of the development process. After all, this includes what users see and how they interact with the app. But, where do you start on app design? And what can you do for your app to stay relevant when it comes to design?

In this article, we’ll guide you through the app design process, list some UI/UX principles and give you some insights into the upcoming and continuing trends for UI and UX design for 2022. But before we get there, let’s dig a little deeper into the relevance of proper app design.

Don’t forget to check out the Design section of our blog!

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We’ve already mentioned that an app’s design is what the user sees and how they interact with it. This means that design plays a considerable role in user acquisition and retention as it convinces users of the app’s functionality.

Apps that are more visually appealing and easier to navigate will provide a better user experience and, therefore, have a better chance at success. And on that note, we believe it’s important to explain the difference between user interface (UI) and user experience (UX).

The difference between UI and UX

These two terms are often mixed up and used interchangeably, but they refer to different concepts as we’ll see below.

The user interface is the general look and feel of a mobile or web app. UI focuses on features, buttons and functions being intuitive. Moreover, a good UI is one that users can navigate instinctively with minimum or no external help.

UI is all about being visually appealing to the user, having intuitive elements, and a natural design.

User experience, on the other hand, is aimed at user retention. The UX focuses on the user’s journey—i.e., the visualization of a user’s path to achieving a goal within the app. Successful UX design is simple and user-friendly.

UX is all about how the user feels about your app, how seamless the user flow is, and how easy it is for users to accomplish their goals within the app.

Although we’ll touch on this again later on, we thought this would be a great time to mention easy navigation as this highlights the relevance of proper app design. Both UI and UX should always revolve around the user and create an environment that makes using the app simple for them.

This covers symbols, buttons, fonts, colors, styles, and many other features. They should all look smooth and be user-friendly while following the guidelines of your company’s brand at the same time.

I think you know where we’re going with all of this. Easy navigation means users will be able to use your app without a hitch which, in turn, will make them want to use it again. So this is an extremely important aspect to keep in mind when designing your app.

Now that we have covered the relevance of proper app design, let’s get to the meat of the issue: where do we start when it comes to app design?

Where to start with app design

App Design

In this section, we’ll cover what you have to think about when designing your app and go through each step of the app design process.

What are you designing?

The first thing to think about when considering where to start on app design is what exactly it is that you are designing. Are we talking about a mobile app or a web app?

If a web app, what type? Is it a single- or multi-page one? An animated web app? Or maybe a progressive web app? All of these have different needs and features that you have to keep in mind.

If mobile, are you designing for Android or iOS? Though you might be able to save time on development using cross-platform frameworks for coding, you should be fully aware of the difference between these two operating systems regarding design.

Define your goals

Knowing why you’re designing the app and what your goals for it are are also important when it comes to where to start on app design. You should ask yourself questions such as what it is that you want your app to do, what will the problem your app solves be and what it is that makes your app set itself apart from the ones developed by your competitors.

Make a plan

Now that you know what you are designing and what your goals are, we can get started on creating a design plan. You should use the information above to outline your project and also think about how your monetization strategy will fit together with your app’s general design.

Do your research

The plan you just sketched out is nothing without some research to back it up. You will need to research both your target market and your competitors. This is crucial in order to find out what your potential users want and also find ways to set yourself apart from potential competitors. Looking at reviews from other similar apps is a great way to research both of these aspects at the same time.

Create a Wireframe

A wireframe is a two-dimensional outline of your app. It covers everything from structure and layout to user flow and intended behaviors.

Creating a wireframe helps you keep the product user-oriented and clarify your app’s features. It’s also a quick and cheap way to see a blueprint of what your design will look like and how it will work.

There are plenty of wireframing tools available, such as Axure and iPlotz. There are also tools like InVision, where you can create click-through models of your app to actually test its navigation.

 If you find any issues with your design plan at this stage, you can easily fix them before delving into the actual design, which will save you both time and money in the future.

Design your app

We’ve finally made it! It’s time to get started on your app design. Here you’ll go into very specific details like the exact font and colors you’ll use. So, how should you go about it? Well, there are different routes for designing your app depending on your resources and preferences.

The first choice is to have an in-house designer or design team that will work along the rest of the areas involved in creating an app.

Another option is to outsource this part of your project and work directly with a designer. This is the best option if you know exactly what you’re after.

You could also use an app builder. This will help you save money, but there are more limitations when it comes to what you can do and it will also mean a time investment on your part.

Finally, you can always hire an agency to take care of your project completely. They can develop your whole app, which, of course, includes the design.

Testing and Feedback

As with any other development endeavor, you should always make sure to test your work and get feedback from both design experts and potential users.

Once you have a rendered mockup of your app, you can have friends, family, members of your design team or even users take it for a ride. Their feedback will help you fix any issues and improve the app’s design. Remember that you are designing the app for a specific audience and listening to their voices on your product is key if you want it to succeed.

Once the app is fully developed, you can also test your app with a focus group or launch a beta version. You should also remember that testing and feedback don’t end once the app is launched. Pay attention to users’ comments once the app is launched to find ways to improve your app’s design.

App Design

UI/UX design principles and tips

Now you have all the information required to start designing your app. But before you do that, we thought it’d be helpful to lay out some essential UX/UI design principles and tips. These will help you during the design process and also help you make sure you understand what works. Below, we’ll expand on some points we’ve already touched on in this article and also look at some points that weren’t covered.

Focus on emotions

You should focus on creating a unique experience for your users. This includes telling engaging stories that reach your users’ emotions. This will allow them to develop a connection with both your app and your brand.

Easy navigation

We know you’re probably tired of hearing about this, but we cannot stress enough how important easy navigation is when it comes to app design. An easy and familiar navigation system will make the user experience enjoyable and will improve user engagement and user retention.

Aim for simplicity

Though ease of navigation doesn’t necessarily mean simplicity, simplicity will often help you do the trick. Users should be able to easily navigate your app and not have to think too hard about how to get from A to B in your app.

This doesn’t mean you should have extra or more complex features. But you should be careful about which features you do add and that they are actually adding value for users instead of just being a hindrance.

Creative vs. common color patterns

It’s definitely okay to let your creativity loose as far as your color palette goes. However, users usually come to associate colors with specific functions or buttons, so you should make sure that you are consistent throughout the app (and your brand in general as we’ll see below).

An adequate palette

You shouldn’t underestimate the power of color psychology. You should pick your color palette carefully, consider any hidden meaning it may have and what you wish to communicate.

Moreover, if you have existing brand guidelines regarding colors (and fonts), you should follow them in your app to achieve a consistent and professional design.

Visual hierarchy

Having a clear visual hierarchy will make it easier for users to navigate your app. Therefore, you should be consistent throughout your app to make sure users do not get confused.

Consistency

As we’ve mentioned with both your color palette and your visual hierarchy, consistency is key. This applies to all design elements both when it comes to visual and functional consistency. This consistency will not only give a professional look to your app, but it will also help users connect with your brand.

App Design

App UI/UX trends for 2022

We’ve given you all the essential tools that show you where to start on app design. However, an essential part of designing a successful app is keeping up to date with trends. Below, you’ll find some of the most relevant trends for app design in 2022.

Dark Mode

Dark mode first made waves in 2019, but it is still going strong in 2022. Many websites and apps are giving users the option to toggle between light and dark mode and you should be no different.

Initially, dark mode was used mostly on apps to be used during nighttime. However, the great perk of dark mode is that the contrasting colors can improve visibility for visually impaired users. Moreover, dark mode reduces power usage in OLED screens and makes your app stand out from the rest. All of this makes this design feature a win-win.

3D Animation

It will come as no shock that 3D and animations will continue to grow and gain popularity in 2022. Although these used to come at the cost of loading speed and data consumption, 5G is making these issues go away.

Regarding 3D, three-dimensional illustrations are more informative and interactive and there are plenty of software available that make adding this feature to your app easier.

With reference to animation, illustrations and icons are particularly important to focus on. This cartoon-style animation evokes the user’s inner child and plays to the focus on emotion we discussed earlier in this article.

Illustrations

Illustrations have been gaining traction in the web and app design world for a while. However, what sets the 2022 wave apart is that these illustrations represent not only the product but also the culture of the people behind it.

Inclusive designs

We’ll cover accessibility below, but do note that this is not the same as inclusive design. Accessibility means making sure that as many people as possible can use your app while inclusive design takes diversity into account. This includes factors such as language, gender, race, and sociocultural background, among many others. A good example of this is inclusive emojis.

Just like with dark mode, this is not a new concept, but it is definitely gaining more traction so as not to leave minorities behind.

Metaverse

What is the metaverse? Well, if you have been paying attention to Facebook’s latest news, you’ll know this is a virtual world that connects users to each other and to digital services through VR devices. This 2021 trend is definitely staying strong and continuing in the next year.

Accessibility

Accessibility is not only essential as it gives more people access to apps. It is also important to take into account as it might expose you to lawsuits if you aren’t taking it into consideration.

Some things to consider on the topic of accessibility in 2022 are the use of contrasting colors, adding the option to increase text size, providing descriptions for images, and providing captions for videos.

90s spirit

The 90s are back! And this time it’s not just in connection to clothing; they have extended into app design. Some of the 90s features that promise to be a big hit in the upcoming year are typography, glitchy transitions and 3D animations.

Neumorphism

Neumorphism took off in 2020 and continues to make strides today. This trend integrates realistic designs into your app, such as glows, shadows and highlights, giving a floating effect to the elements on your app.

Mobile-first

Another trend that is here to stay is making apps mobile-first. This comes as no shock considering most of the global internet population use their mobile devices to go online.

Mobile-first apps are those designed for mobile devices and then, if needed, adapted for the web. As most people use their phones in their daily routines, being mobile-first greatly improves customer service.

Conclusion

A lot can be said about app design. The most important aspect to consider is that you should never underestimate the power of proper app design. You may have an app that includes incredible features, but if it isn’t easy to navigate or visually appealing, users will most likely look for alternative options.

We hope this article has given you an idea of where to start on app design, as well as useful tips on both UI and UX design. But, most of all, we hope it has sufficiently impressed the importance of app design on you.

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