The exponential and continual explosion of apps for mobile devices is certainly keeping us designers and developers on our toes; it’s tough to keep up. The good news, however, is that while technology advances and devices evolve at breakneck pace, the principles for great mobile design remain the same. Here are the five you need to know and apply.

  1. Design the parts to be consistent with the whole. Designers are often expected to break with convention. Apple encourages all of us to “think different.” But you need to remember that your app is a part of a larger family — everything else on the user’s device. Any OS introduces conventions to the user, consistent interaction patterns that allow them to get a quick handle on how things work, a model that shouldn’t be broken. When Sheila’s favorite app suddenly introduces a way of deleting content that runs counter to the way she deletes something in all her other apps, she gets frustrated. And that is often enough for her to start seeking alternatives or delete the app altogether.
  2. Make opportunities to interact obvious and visible. A user can’t interact with something on the screen if they can’t tell the element is interactive. The ubiquitous “hamburger” menu, for example, is quickly becoming a design convention — but the jury is still very much out on whether the majority of users know what it is or what to do with it. The symbol itself doesn’t connote a real-world counterpart. It’s abstract and its usefulness relies on the user tapping it to find out what it does. Put simply, out of sight is out of mind. A plethora of recent A/B tests, combined with time-tested UI & UX design theory, basically shows that anything hidden behind the hamburger icon is either forgotten or rarely used. When  key navigation elements aren’t visible, they might as well not exist.
  3. Aim for single-trial learning. Designers, developers and UX professionals of all stripes often use the term ‘intuitive’ to describe the goal of their app design efforts. But the understanding of that term across a project team — and across the client stakeholders funding the project — is often very different. Intuitive really means “single trial learning.” Once John taps a few things on the first screen of the app, he gets how things work and he’ll be able to do it again. While he may not automatically remember everything the next time around, he’ll be able to quickly infer what to do first, second, third, etc. That first use sets the tone and tells him how things work within the app. Increased effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction.
  4. Give people the ability to predict the result of their actions. We humans instinctively predict the outcome of every action we take, prior to doing so. And when a tap or swipe delivers something that matches our prediction, we feel a strong sense of control. This makes us feel good about the app; it reassures us that our investment in using it is time well spent. People will often say that onscreen elements or workflow patterns are logical or obvious. What they really mean is composed of two parts: First, just by looking at the onscreen cues, they’re able to predict what will happen. Next, when they do take action, they’re never surprised by what they see or are asked to do next.
  5. Anticipate the user’s questions — and answer them real-time. When actions are abstracted by technology, we want to know what’s happening — because we can’t see what the technology behind the UI is doing. If Kim writes something on a piece of paper, she can see it happening; she knows the ink has hit the paper. But when she enters data in a series of fields and clicks next, she has no concrete evidence that the data is going wherever it needs to go. So when an inline message or modal window pops up that says “your data has been saved,” Kim breathes a sigh of relief. She knows what just happened, and she knows it worked as it should. Onscreen feedback anticipates and answers questions that our brains are instinctively programmed to ask.

Yes, there’s more to designing great mobile design and UX. But these 5 principles are at the core of what makes an app useful, usable and valuable to someone. Start here and I promise you the reaction and the results will make you — and your users — very happy.

Announcing my upcoming book, Think First!

Announcing Think First, the upcoming book on UX strategy from Joe NatoliI truly believe Think First is unlike no other book on the subject of UX strategy. Instead of addressing the narrow, tactical pieces of the design process, Think First shows you everything that must be considered to create great UX — and gives you a roadmap to make it happen.

Think First details my no-nonsense approach to creating  successful products, powerful user experiences and very happy customers.

The book shares lessons learned from my 25 years as a UX consultant to Fortune 100 organizations. You’ll find step-by-step methods and straightforward, jargon-free advice that can be applied to anything you’re designing or building. Here are just some of the things you’ll learn:

  • Simple user research methods that anyone can conduct and apply
  • The right questions to ask stakeholders and users at the outset of any project
  • The 3 crucial questions you must ask of every client, every time
  • How to tell the difference between what people say they need vs. what they really need
  • A better, simpler way to generate meaningful UX requirementsat the outset of the project.
  • How to avoid scope creep and the never-ending project scenario

Think First will be available in Spring of 2015,as an exclusive hardcover edition, eBook and audiobook format for all device platforms. As we move closer to publication, I will share updates and excerpts from Think First — stay tuned!

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If you’d like to get more advice from me every month on UX, UI and Product Design + Development topics — in the form of training videos, full-length courses, e-books, downloadable templates and more — check out my NEW online school, the UX 365 Academy. Every month I publish new content, and you also have access to every course, book and training video I’ve ever created — some of which have never been published online before now.

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