Best practices for great mobile app UX

Posted on August 2, 2023
10 min read

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In 2021, Americans spent four hours a day on their phones. Today, it's over five hours. A little under 60% of all internet searches are from a mobile device, and by 2027, the market for mobile apps will have grown by more than a trillion dollars. Our apps are becoming faster, more practical, and increasingly part of our daily lives. The number of apps available in the mobile application design space has also exploded, leading to fierce competition in a rampantly expanding market. This has made high-quality mobile app UX (user experience) one of the fundamental ingredients of an organization's success. 

What is mobile UX design?

Mobile UX design is creating and optimizing the visual and interactive elements of a mobile application or website to ensure a seamless and satisfying user experience on smartphones or tablets. A solid mobile UX gives users what they want—a fun, intuitive, and enjoyable way to use their mobile devices. Frequent and meaningful mobile engagements are at the heart of what converts new users into loyal customers.

Designing for mobile means considering the constraints and function of mobile devices, adding a new element of complexity to traditional UX design. Designing a good mobile UX requires focusing on several things at once. For instance, accessibility and speed can affect the user experience, as can screen optimization, customization, and design consistency. There are many moving parts, and the things that constitute UX best practices are also in flux. 

Another critical component of mobile UX design is usability testing, where people agree to provide feedback on an application or digital experience such as browsing a website. Usability testing gauges mobile UX in various metrics, including relevance, functionality, usability, and consistency.

To better understand the vital role mobile testing plays and learn more tips for mobile app UX design, check out the guide: Testing mobile experiences.

Why is mobile app usability important?

As people increasingly depend on the convenience of their phones, more mobile usability testing is needed. Designers must know how users interact and feel about new features. 

Mobile experiences fundamentally differ from a laptop or personal computer, and mobile UX designers need to understand these nuances for best results. Let’s consider how usability testing helps provide a stellar mobile interaction and how it leads to better UX design.

An excellent mobile user experience creates a loyal customer base, directly impacting client acquisition and retention. During testing, designers see how users interact with their apps, allowing them to enhance design elements. 

Another reason is to grow an organization's return on investment (ROI). Mobile UX design enhances product value, leading to a higher probability of success, increased profits, and less business risk.

Mastering mobile UX design

Apps that put users first are the most successful. But designing for mobile UX is nuanced. Technology is constantly evolving, and people respond to it differently.

At UserTesting, we understand the why of UX design. Our industry-leading mobile testing solution provides customer feedback, allowing design teams to flourish as they get direct insight into how real users interact with their mobile products and experience.

Enhance user experience with 12 best practices for mobile app usability 

As different apps fight for market share, there's immense pressure on designers in the UX space to quickly learn, evolve, innovate, and stay relevant in an evolving environment. There are dozens of apps to compete with, each vying for a bigger slice of users' attention. 

The goal is to create effective mobile products people want to engage with. Here are 12 mobile app design best practices to consider implementing before you start testing.

1. Choose simple aesthetics

The simpler, the better. Unnecessary elements or features on a mobile app could confuse, distract, or overwhelm users. Simplicity is essential when converting a one-time interaction into a daily active user. People use most apps for a specific purpose, so being able to interact with something simple that gets the job done will keep them coming back.

But remember, simple doesn't mean basic. Your app can still have many features while maintaining a clean, minimalist look.

2. Create a consistent design

Maintaining a consistent look throughout your app's components is another good practice. People like consistency, and it helps make the experience feel more trustworthy and immersive. When all the elements of an app look and feel the same, it allows users to figure out how it works, making the UX much more enjoyable. Design consistency is also a big part of brand recognition and establishing customer loyalty. 

3. Always consider the user's needs

UX designers should put themselves in the user's shoes at every stage of the process. The earlier you think about users' needs, the fewer significant changes you'll have to make later. But user-centric thinking is trickier than it sounds. If it were easy to think like the average user, designers would consistently get it right on the first try. Understanding users' needs takes nuance, so regular mobile usability testing is now standard practice. 

UX is also connected to user interface (UI) design, and mobile app UI and UX have a lot of overlapping processes.

4. Provide ample information 

Good mobile UX design never assumes a user's knowledge. Provide plenty of information to walk users through your mobile app onboarding or other tasks. Apps that don't take their users' technical abilities for granted successfully create massive customer bases. 

5. Make it easy to get around 

Getting users to the landing page is the first step. Next is getting them to navigate your app. Good navigation design includes:

  • Smooth scrolling
  • Seamless switching between pages
  • Main feature visibility
  • Quick access to help and support functions

How easily users can cycle through various components of an app is fundamental to how user-friendly it is. The easier your app is to navigate, the more likely users will keep using it.  

6. Make sure everyone can use it

The more people can use your app, the easier it is to stay competitive. Mobile app designers should consider the different accessibility limitations people might experience and make up for them through design. For instance, adjusting an app's color contrast, font size, or button placement. Other examples include options for closed captioning, automatic translations, and voice-to-text capabilities.

7. Balance speed and performance

Nothing frustrates users like an application that's slow to load, so designers need to consider performance and load times when adding new features to an app. Striking the right balance between speed and functionality is tricky, and mobile usability testing can shed light on the features that matter most to users. 

8. Design proactive error-handling mechanisms 

Since no app works perfectly 100% of the time, mobile UX teams must consider error handling. For starters, you want an app to handle errors gracefully. A well-designed error-handling system helps users understand what went wrong and offers solutions, reducing frustration and enhancing the user experience. A playful apology message or a bounce to a page dedicated to errors are easy fixes. These efforts show users that everything is OK and help them feel more confident to proceed. 

9. Stick with what works

The best UX design incorporates what's unique and familiar. While you can distinguish yourself through your app's features, branding, voice, or appearance, some tried and tested UX elements remain best practices for everyone. Most users have gotten used to doing things a certain way—for example, swiping up to scroll down—and ensuring your app follows these familiar patterns reduces learning curves and increases user comfort. 

10. Allow users to personalize

Letting users personalize certain elements gives them more ownership and connection to an app. Integrate this into the UX by showing personalized content, remembering user settings, or providing recommendations tailored to individual preferences. Even small touches such as changing an app's icon, toggling between light and dark mode, or being able to install a personal theme can go a long way in increasing satisfaction and loyalty.

11. Optimize it for every device 

Nothing's worse than an app that loses its crisp look or navigational ease if it isn't optimized for a different mobile device. From tiny smartphones to large tablets, one-size-fits-all solutions won't work anymore, and the best UX designs optimize apps for interactions on multiple mobile devices. 

12. Be vigilant about security

Security has always been vital to UX design, especially for apps that handle sensitive user data. Implementing robust security features and communicating these to users will bolster their trust and confidence in the app. Several security measures are common when designing mobile app privacy, including doing a password-strength audit, requiring two-factor authorization, or temporarily blocking an account after multiple invalid attempts at entry.

Additional mobile UX best practices and tips

Here are some bonus tips for improving mobile app UX.

Minimize battery consumption

No matter how great your app is, users may avoid it if it drains a device's battery too quickly. A key practice in UX design is balancing features such as location updates and background services with low-power functionality that consumes less battery. 

Utilize push notifications wisely

Push notifications can be handy, but their impact is double-edged if you don't use them wisely. Many users consider these notifications annoying and may stop using an app if they receive too many. Those designing UX apps should remember this to ensure only the most vital notifications are pushed. 

Explore new advancements in artificial intelligence

Although AI isn't new to UX design, there are advancements in machine learning, neural networks, and natural language processing (NLP), whose full potential has yet to be discovered. For instance, future UX designers could incorporate NLP algorithms to allow an app's chatbot to troubleshoot complex issues with users, providing an unprecedented level of intuitive, round-the-clock customer service. Of course, this space is still growing, but keeping up with new developments and updates can help your team take immediate advantage of them.

Check out UserTesting’s vision for AI

Always keep user privacy in mind 

On the heels of the above tip, it's more important than ever to keep user privacy in mind as new UX design elements become available. Not only is protecting privacy ethically and legally required, but maintaining strict privacy standards and letting users know about it builds trust and improves customer loyalty. 

Examples of bad mobile UX design

One way to learn about best practices is by looking at bad mobile UX design to understand what not to do. Here are a few common examples of poor design elements that can complicate or ruin the user experience.

Hidden fees at checkout

Users hate running into hidden fees at checkout. Including surprise fees in your design is a good way to deter first-time users from returning. 

Distracting autoplay features

Any video or audio element that auto-plays is a problem as it takes control away from users, making an app feel pushy. The same goes for intrusive pop-ups and ads.

Messy content and clunky navigation

Disorganized content and unintuitive navigation can leave users less than impressed. For example, lacking a search functionality or having an unresponsive button leads to a frustrating user experience.

Errors that lead to dead ends

Apps that don't have built-in troubleshooting, support, or help features are another example of poor UX design. Most users are willing to work toward a solution if one's been provided, but nothing is more frustrating than hitting a dead-end without knowing what to do.

Examples of good user experience in a mobile app

Plenty of mobile apps also show what good UX design looks like. Let's look at a few great mobile UX examples.

Incorporating micro-interactions 

These include mini-animations or other ways the app engages with the users and facilitates a smooth experience. The LinkedIn app is a great example of this. 

Customizable user experience 

Apps such as Spotify allow users to customize their experiences, making them instantly popular as it's much easier to develop a personal connection with these apps.

Easy onboarding procedure

Duolingo is a terrific example of an app that makes onboarding straightforward and more likely to attract new users.

Feedback and error handling

While feedback is always essential, apps like Uber must have highly intuitive and efficient feedback and error-handling systems since they directly impact a person's day-to-day affairs.

Consistent, minimalist look 

Good design is also about the look. Clean, simple, minimalist apps like Headspace or Medium have adopted this principle very well. 

Adaptive, responsive, intuitive design 

Apps that intuitively anticipate and adapt to user needs are another example of good mobile UX design. The Airbnb app combines search and filtering, reviews and ratings, secure payment processing, feedback, troubleshooting, and support into a clear, easy-to-ease design. 

Mobile App UX FAQ

How can I improve the usability of my mobile app?

You can start by simplifying your features and creating a clean, consistent application design. Improve your app's UX by providing personalization options, optimizing an app for other devices, and regular testing with real users.

What role does responsive design play in mobile app usability?

Responsive design improves mobile usability by seamlessly adjusting an app to fit different screen sizes and orientations. The responsive element lets users enjoy an app on other devices without changing the UX.

How can I simplify user tasks and workflows in my app?

Design features such as auto-fill forms and remembering user settings are two ways to streamline certain tasks in an app and simplify tasks for users.

What impact does visual design have on mobile app usability?

The first thing users notice is how an app looks and feels. Visual design blunders can instantly cause potential new users to turn away. Good visual design can include color, typography, and spacing. Not only do these elements improve the UX, but they also make using the app more efficient. Poor visual design, such as clashing colors or cursive fonts, can confuse readers and create a frustrating experience.

How can I provide effective feedback and handle errors in my app?

You can provide effective feedback with robust error messaging to alert users if something has gone wrong. The best designs would then follow these alerts with suggestions for a solution. When designing feedback mechanisms, remember to use friendly, nontechnical language. You can also include visual cues or color changes to indicate problems or highlight errors.

What to avoid in mobile UX?

As we've covered above, there are many pitfalls to avoid in UX mobile design. Generally, you want an uncluttered interface, intuitive navigation, consistent design, and robust feedback. It's also good to avoid assumptions about how users interact with an app and do ample user testing to identify potential design oversights.

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