User Interface Best Practices: Seven Things You Should Focus On When Designing Your App

You only get one chance to make a good first impression and, for mobile developers, that one chance is your app’s interface. A quick look at the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store will provide a plethora of examples of apps with negative reviews because of poor interface design. 

With over 2 million titles on the App Store and 3.7 million Android Apps, making your app stand out is harder than ever. This underscores the need to capture your users’ attention right away. To do that, here are some of the top things you should focus on when designing your app’s interface.

Know Your User

“Measure twice, cut once” is an old saying that emphasizes the need for preparation. Better to spend extra time preparing than going back later and reworking something.

The same is true when it comes to mobile app interface design. It’s important to take the time to understand what your users want and need in an app’s interface before you begin developing it. What demographic will your app target? How tech savvy are your target users? What interface standards have existing/competing apps established as the expected workflow for this type of app?

If you already have existing users, perhaps of another app, taking the time to poll your users before designing your new app’s interface can provide valuable information. If this is your company’s first foray into mobile applications, take the time for due diligence to investigate competing apps to see what does—and what does not—work.

Minimize Cognitive Overhead

It’s estimated that the average person’s attention span has dropped to eight seconds, down from 12 seconds in 2000. As Inc. points out, that puts the lowly goldfish in the lead with a nine-second attention span. What does this mean for mobile app interfaces?

It means that you have a limited window of opportunity to capture a user’s attention when they first open your app. If your app is so complicated that it requires users to complete a tutorial just to start using it, in all likelihood, you won’t be keeping those users very long.

The key is to have an interface that reduces cognitive overhead and lets the individual jump right in and start using your app. That’s not to say there can’t be a tutorial for more advanced features, or a well-designed help section the user can access as needed. Initially, however, the user should be able to get started using the app with minimal effort.

Avoid Text Walls

While large amounts of text may be good for reference websites or desktop applications, a smartphone’s screen does not lend itself to walls of text. Instead, when designing your interface, focus on visual, graphical design elements.

Use Familiar Design Elements

The vast majority of mobile apps are similar enough that users have come to expect a certain flow to apps within a category. The same is true for users of your company’s desktop or web applications—they’re already familiar with a certain look and feel.

When creating your mobile app’s interface, you can greatly reduce your customer’s frustration by sticking within the framework of these established parameters. Don’t try to reinvent something as basic as a search screen or “What’s New?” page. Similarly, while it will obviously need to be redesigned to fit within the constraints of a smartphone screen, try to make sure the overall theme of your mobile app is similar to your website and/or desktop software. This will help reduce the amount of time your customers spend acclimating to your mobile app.

Use Clear Navigation

This is another area where it’s best not to reinvent the wheel. Some apps try to introduce fancy, gesture-driven navigation elements only to end up with users who are hopelessly lost trying to perform the most basic functions.

Instead, use clear, established methods of navigating through your app. Make sure your users can easily transition from one screen to another, one feature to the next, without needing to consult the Help section—if they can even navigate to that section.

Follow the OS User Interface Guidelines


Person sitting at a table looking at their mobile phone.

iOS and Android both have established guidelines that apps on either platform should follow. While in extremely rare cases, some apps have successfully bucked those guidelines with radically innovative UIs, users generally expect applications to adhere to the standards in place. Stray too far and your app will likely start receiving negative reviews for failing to conform.

This is especially important when working on cross-platform apps; you will need to take into consideration the unique interface guidelines of both iOS and Android. What looks good on one may stick out like a sore thumb on the other.

Capture User Sessions

One of the most important things you should do, especially when your app is going through beta testing, is to use performance monitoring software—such as the Embrace platform—to capture user sessions.

While many developers think of performance monitoring software as a way to find bugs, increase performance and reduce crashes, it can also tell you exactly how users are interacting with your application. What screen are they spending the most time on? Where do they go next? What interface elements are they struggling to interact with? What interface pain point causes them to give up and exit the app?

Knowing the answers to those questions before your app is released to the public can make all the difference between creating an award-winning app and one that gets panned in reviews.

Interface Design—A Key to Successful Apps

As the saying goes, “beauty is skin-deep.” No matter how powerful or useful your app may be, the vast majority of users will never find out if the interface is not inviting and easy-to-use. Follow the above steps to help ensure your interface is up to the task.

Try it out the Embrace platform to see how it can help you understand exactly what is going on with your mobile app, its interface, and the users who are interacting with it.  Take it for a test drive today.

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