Mobile App Design Process – The Ultimate Guide

Mobile App Design Process, the thought of creating a mobile app from scratch sounds like an uphill task full of corny, complex coding activities.

But it doesn’t have to be that way! Before developing a new mobile app, you need to design it first. It’s critical to plan every step, and at some point, you might want to retreat and examine what you’re building.

If you’re in a customer-first business (every business is), then you need a mobile app. It’s no longer an option, but a necessity.

Global app downloads surpassed 218 billion last year. Businesses that made the mistake of not creating a mobile app will continue to suffer in the coming years too.

Having a mobile strategy is essential because this research shows that users spend 90% of their time in apps as compared to surfing the internet.

It’s great to have a mobile responsive website backed by a solid mobile marketing strategy with major resources being allocated to cross-device reach. In today’s competitive era, not having a mobile app has severe implications.

A mobile app helps businesses reach more customers, improve marketing strategies, provide value to the customers, increase brand awareness, increase customer engagement and loyalty, and create one or more competitive advantage(s). Plus, mobile apps can improve your bottom line.

When the average user spends more time looking at a mobile phone than watching television or using a desktop or laptop, what excuse does your business have for not having a mobile app?

The question remains, where and how to start?

There are two phases of any mobile app design.

  1. Mobile app design strategy
  2. App design process

Mobile App Design Strategy

It starts with a strategy. It defines the future and the path to reach your destination.

The issue, however, is with creating a mobile app design strategy. You simply can’t create an app just because your competitor has one. Your competitor might have a different business objective and mobile strategy which are quite different from yours.

Developing a mobile strategy links back to the company strategy and has four stages:

i).   Understand the business strategy

ii).  Business mobile app strategy

iii). App strategy

iv). Product management strategy

1. Understand Your Business Strategy

Understanding the overall business strategy should form the basis of your mobile app design. Misalignment between company strategy and the mobile strategy might be suicidal.

Recent statistics from the Harvard Business Review show that 70% of employees don’t have enough information about their company’s strategy or their perception of strategy is much different than the actual strategy.

There are several benefits of creating and executing a mobile strategy that’s derived from (and supports) the overall company strategy.

  • It maximizes ROI by as much as 74%.
  • Reduces training needs.
  • It leads to customer satisfaction.
  • Decreases integration requirements and bugs.
  • Improvement in quality, value, productivity, employee efficiency, and customer engagement.

2. Business Mobile App Strategy

Your mobile app strategy is your surefire path to achieving success with your mobile app design and marketing in general.

Yes, the success or failure of the app depends on the strategy since everything will be linked to the strategy. It will be easy to create if you have answers to these two questions:

  1. What is the purpose of the app?
  2. What is the benefit that the end-user will drive from using the app?

The simplest way to chart your app strategy is none other than:

“We will build this so that our customers can do that.”

The strategy has to be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely. Anything that’s too vague or looks seemingly unachievable, strike it out. For example, having more downloads than WhatsApp isn’t a practically achievable goal.

Other Requirements

If you think a functional app idea, a roadmap, and budget allocation are all that you need for the strategy, think again.

There are several other non-functional requirements that will be needed. They include:

  • Access points
  • Network availability
  • Maintenance costs
  • Architectural support
  • Payment processing
  • Security Solutions
  • Access to tools
  • CDN
  • SLAs

3. Defining The App Strategy

Now is the time to define clear use cases on the basis of the customer journey. This calls for a clear definition of the single app strategy.

use case is at the center of defining app strategy. It’s defined as the list of actions that define the interaction between a role and the system. The image below represents a simple use case that defines the actions of the buyer and the seller – the roles.

“The number one secret is to focus on one or two main use cases. Let’s not overwhelm the user, but really focus on one or two use cases and do them really, really well.”

The best app strategy is one that uses not more than two use cases. Think of Instagram, people use it when they have to share a photo. This is a perfect example of a single-use case.

4. Define Your Product Management Implementation Strategy

Once the mobile app strategy is defined and documented, it’s time to implement it.

The test strategy should be defined before the coders get to work. Here’s what to include in the test strategy:

  • What is the scope of the app?
  • What is not in the scope?
  • The features
  • Individual cases
  • Outcome
  • App versions and integration

Know The Required Tools

What tools do you need for development, testing, and for maintenance? Though, it mostly depends on the budget allocation.

List all the tools required at every stage of the development and post-development.

Some of the tools that you may need include:

  • JIRA or TicketsNow for documenting and tracking time.
  • Google Analytics, Site Catalyst, or Omniture for analytics and performance.
  • Splunk, FogLight, or AppDynamics for app performance.
  • PractiTest, Test Collab, TestRail, or qTest for QA testing.

Basic App Design Process

Benji Hyam, the co-founder of Social Proof Interactive, stated that before you approach an app designer, you must have the following things ready:

  • Understanding your target market and the end-user
  • List of things that a user might want to accomplish with the app
  • Initial wireframes
  • Budget

This is, more or less, what we have covered in the previous section. Having a mobile app strategy will make app designing super easy.

Mobile app design strategy is an in-house process while app design process can be outsourced or done in-house.

The basic app design process consists of the following steps:

  1. Setting the scope
  2. User/market research
  3. UX wireframe
  4. Prototype
  5. UI design
  6. Animation
  7. Software architecture
  8. iOS development
  9. Testing
  10. Release

Let’s roll.

1. Setting The Scope

The scope refers to what needs to be done, what you want to achieve from the app, and how large/small it has to be. The scope may include all of the following:

  • The nature of the app
  • Target audience
  • Most crucial functions and features of the app
  • App’s visual design features
  • Potential technologies to be used
  • Consistency with the business strategy
  • Specific preferences

Did you notice that consistency with the business strategy is just one part of this process?

In order to document the scope of the app, it’s crucial to identify all of the following:

  • Objectives and goals of the app
  • Phases and subphases
  • Tasks and resources
  • Budget
  • Schedule

Based on the scope, the design and flow of the app will be prepared.

2. User & Market Research

This is the phase where the UX and UI designers will get to work based on the scope of the app and on the app strategy. It involves market research and user research.

How is it Done?

Start by conducting in-depth market research and analyzing the existing apps in your industry. If you’re going to create an image-sharing app, you’ll have to look at the existing image-sharing apps, their color schemes, patterns, flow, etc.

The user research will reveal colors and themes that will help you develop an emotional connection with the target audience.

What type of colors and styles will the end-users prefer? You can use different methods to collect data from potential users such as surveys, focus groups, design workshops, etc.

3. UX Wireframe

The visual representation of the user interface is known as the UX wireframe. You have to create a structure of the user interface, transitions, and interactions. It must be based on market research, user research, competition, and strategy.

You can use wireframing software or you can create a simple outline on paper. Lay down the user flow as you want it to appear on the actual app.

The purpose of UX wireframing is to define the flow of the app such as the number of windows, buttons, where each button leads the user, the registration process, the login screen, and everything related to the front-end of your app.

4. Create A Prototype

Prototype lets you see and feel the app. It must be created as early as possible. Once you have the UX wireframe, creating a low-fidelity prototype is easy.

The low-fidelity prototype is a sketchy prototype that can be created right away as the wireframe is ready. There is no need to waste money on expensive prototypes.

Not only does a high-fidelity prototype consume resources but it takes time.

simple physical prototype will show you how the app looks. The purpose of a prototype, by any means, is not to test or improve the functionality.

A lot of experts recommend using low-fidelity prototypes to save cost and time. Instead of wasting money creating expensive prototypes, spend money on app functions, features, and on coding.

5. UI Design

Do not confuse UX wireframe and prototyping with the user interface (UI) design.

The UX research, wireframing, and prototyping are about how the app works while the UI design is about how the app looks.

Once the UX has been tested, tweaked, and several prototypes have been tested and finalized, you have to move to the UI designing phase.

At this stage, you have to deal with the visual representation of the concepts, color schemes, fonts, shapes, buttons, font size, images, forms, illustrations, animation, etc.

You have to test multiple designs to see what works best for your users. The color schemes, skins, themes, and all the visual elements have to be tweaked several times to find what works.

It’s somewhat similar to A/B testing with the difference being that in the case of UI design, you have to make the judgments yourself. You cannot bring customers on board at this stage.

6. Interface Animation

The animation should be applied and tested with the UI design phase, so as to test different styles of animation in real-time.

Animation refers to the user interface animation such as how a new screen will pop out and how gestures are defined, and so on.

Interface animation has the power of grabbing user attention, as pointed out in Google’s material design principles:

“Motion design can effectively guide the user’s attention in ways that both inform and delight. Use motion to smoothly transport users between navigational contexts, explain changes in the arrangement of elements on a screen, and reinforce element hierarchy.”

The animation should be functional instead of a simple design element.

Anatoly Nesterov has shared seven types of animations for mobile apps. You can choose from the following list.

  1. Visual feedback
  2. Function change
  3. Element hierarchy
  4. Orientation in space
  5. Condition of the system
  6. Visual prompts
  7. Fun animations

7. Software Architecture Planning

This is perhaps the most crucial part of the entire design process. The core purpose of software architecture planning is to scale the app, and make it better in terms of functionality and design.

It takes place as a parallel stage of designing.

It involves the entire team including the designers, programmers, and managers. The idea is to improve the frontend and the backend processes by constructively tweaking the software architecture.

It calls for regular constructive discussion on platforms, frameworks, abstract layers, design platforms, technology, components, etc.

Some of the best practices include:

  • Build to change.
  • Understand the end user needs before designing and redesigning.
  • Do not hesitate to invest in architecture.
  • Identify key interfaces, layers, and subsystems.
  • Use an iterative approach to designing.

8. App Development

This is the phase where coding begins and the developers start creating the app.

This is something that developers have to do, so make sure you deal with the best coders. The app can be developed for android or iOS depending on your choice.

Instead of creating the app for multiple platforms simultaneously, the better approach is to create the app for one platform first.

Why?

Because developing an app for a single platform from an expert will cost you tens of thousands of dollars. If it turns out to be a poorly coded app, you will find yourself in the middle of nowhere.

Better yet, choose android app development first, since it’s cost-effective as compared to iOS.

9. Testing

When the average failure rate for app testing for android is 16.4%, you can’t afford to launch your newly created app without testing.

The purpose of testing the app is to ensure there aren’t any bugs and the app works as expected.

There are several stages in an app testing process. This type of rigorous testing process will ensure that your app works smoothly.

There are different types of testing and a decent approach is to test for all the types.

  • Functional testing
  • Memory testing
  • Performance test
  • Security test
  • Interruption test
  • Usability test

The app can be tested in-house, outsourced, or the developers can do the preliminary testing. The app testers should not be your developers or partners of the developers.

10. Release

Finally, it’s time to release your app once it has passed the tests.

The app must be submitted to the appropriate app store. It will take time since most of the apps are reviewed before they are published. It can take up to a week for the app to get approval so plan your release accordingly.

Most developers believe that a proper release strategy should be used for app launches.

Partnering with the right business is the best approach that worked exceptionally well for David and Goliath. They partnered with David Eckstein for the launch of their app which turned out to be a huge success.

Mobile Design Tips

The following mobile design tips will help you in achieving your set goals:

1. Iterate user interface designs: This tip comes from Amanda Cline, who is a developer with intensive experience under her belt.

She says:

“It is an excellent idea to iterate the interface design options so as to achieve apps that are fully engaging and retain the attention of targeted users.”

Every single iteration will help you learn a valuable lesson that might not be useful for this project, but it can help you in another project.

2. Understand your users: There is only one rule to designing better apps – understand your users. The best mobile app developers collect user feedback and apply it to the design. This is a crucial part of the mobile application design process. 

There are three ways to understand your users.

  • Create personas – characters developed to represent your target audience.
  • Experience maps – help you explore all the possibilities for a single interaction.
  • User scenarios – how a person acts based on different UI designs.

3. Design for the future: Yes you should look beyond today and design for the future.

Jeff Haden says:

“When I decided to put speed radar on a mobile device, the capability really wasn’t there, but I knew it would be.”

While designing an app, keep the future in mind. Never design for today because by the time you will finish designing the app, the hardware will have been upgraded and when you launch the app, you will always be behind.

System Architecture

This stage is often overlooked in the app development process. But taking the time to understand your system ensures that you can grow your business without outgrowing your app.

The best apps are scalable, reliable, and secure—but also achieve your goals.

Without a system architecture analysis, something will eventually get lost in the shuffle. So make sure you understand the various entities of your system. Figure out the different data flows between each entity as well.

What workflows will be required for each process? Do you need third-party integrations? What are the technical requirements on the backend?

Create a functional spec sheet that details all of the data flows and flow charts. This information can ultimately be handed off to your design team. A designer will need to understand your system architecture to create a design that makes sense for your specific app and its goals.

Wireframes

Your wireframe will be another crucial tool for your app’s design. Anyone can create a wireframe—you don’t need to be a designer to accomplish this.

Think of your wireframe as a rough sketch of your app’s usability. These can be super informal. I’ve even seen some wireframes sketched on napkins or pieces of paper, although most people today will create a digital version.

Conclusion

Mobile app design can be complicated, but it doesn’t have to be.

To nail the design of your app, make sure you follow the design guidelines explained in this article. Rather than trying to tackle this on your own, contact our team here at BuildFire. We can handle all of the design elements, and more, while providing consultancy services for your app as well.

Our mobile app designers and app developers will double as strategic partners for your app development project. It’s time to take your design to the next level. Let’s build something great together!

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