Thinking mobile friendly and user friendly are the same thing is a common misconception in technology today.

Don’t fall into this trap! Though mobile apps are considered “mobile-friendly,” the user experience could be anything but friendly. How many times have you downloaded an app with the hopes of extracting some use out of it, only to find using it a less than stellar experience? Probably lost count, huh?

As mobile users, we take functionality, consistency and connectivity for granted, but we certainly know when something isn’t working. The biggest deal-breakers I’ve come across include intrusive ads and pop-ups, lack of social media connectivity and so-called “free to play” apps that are utterly useless unless you take advantage of in-app purchases. With an intrusive ad model, for example, an app’s “functionality” is reduced as the user’s frustration builds after accidentally clicking on the same banner ad for the 800th time. “Consistency” goes out the window when an app inexplicably crashes, and “connectivity” bites the dust when a user can’t share their in-app achievements across Twitter or Facebook.

Now that we know some of the things that an app can do wrong, what are some of the things that they can do right?

1. Draw the Eye with Color

An app user experience can be greatly improved through simply decluttering the interface. One way this can be achieved is through employing a very limited color range into your design. Some examples of apps that use a minimal color design include Paratt, Guide and Swing. The main colors used in these apps are black and white, as well as a bold color in the title or footer area, such as red or orange, to serve as an anchor for the user’s eye. Without too much color to focus on, users can easily navigate the interface without fear of clicking an incorrect link or otherwise getting lost on the site.

2. Use Icons to Guide Users

Another great way to enhance the experience with your app is through imaginative use of icons and logos.  When designing an app with a minimal color design, logos and icons can become essential assets in an otherwise (potentially) bland background — not to mention these components of visual language help guide users to key actions. An example of a mobile app that uses a this approach is TargetBuy, which relies on three main colors and also uses iconography to imply action.  With a minimal approach to color, it relies on their icons to do the talking and draw the user in.

3. Ensure Device Compatibility

Always ensure that your app is compatible with the devices that it is being run on. This also means checking it runs as intended on new software releases. Some apps have lost value simply because the architect or designer failed to account for software updates. Even if your design is flawless, it can all be for naught if your app fails to run after a user updates the operating system.

Some tips to help prevent your app from becoming unusable include: networking with other quality app developers, submitting your app to only one “store” for the initial launch, and creating an online presence via social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.). Doing so will make it easier to monitor its progress to ensure compatibility and focus more on responding to customer feedback effectively, regardless if it’s negative or positive.

4. Offer Non-Obtrusive In-App Purchases

When used effectively, in-app purchase options can give your customers just enough to prompt them to pay. An excellent example of in-app purchases would be Madgarden’s Punch Quest, where the user can still download and play the app for free, but also has the ability to purchase in-game accessories, such as sunglasses, hairstyles and the like. This non-aggressive in-app purchase model allows customers to enhance their experience, while allowing customers to still enjoy the app without having to pay anything at all.

In the end, it’s how the app is designed that determines if the in-app model is too aggressive.  Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Is the app actually useable in the free version?
  2. Are paid features useful (like more storage space, more contact additions, etc.) and will they fit into the overall function of the app?

These points are all important to consider while designing your app. As a chronic app downloader myself, I would say that the apps that have proven the test of time avoid the deal-breakers, and utilize one or more of the strategies outlined above.

App design (mobile or not) takes times. There are many interactions, statuses, and paths users can take. You cannot afford to skimp on building a foundation when designing an app. What does your app accomplish? Is it addressing a new need or an old need better than an existing app? Construct your app around core functionality first.  Your users will thank you for it.