5 tips for beautiful mobile app design

Cecily Kellogg

The perfect mobile app is a delicate marriage between engineering and design, with a great user experience – leading to widespread adoption – being the longed-for progeny. Too awkward a metaphor? Well, basically, making your mobile app beautiful is a key element in compelling users to embrace it. So what do you need to consider when working with a designer to create the look and feel of your app?

First, it’s important to think about design right from the start. Developers can get bogged down in use and function, all too often ignoring form until they are too far into the development process. The key to a beautiful app is to have a designer involved as soon as the developers have determined the app’s storyboard, because a designer will focus on the key elements needed to take the app beyond function and into gorgeous form.

So what does an app designer focus on?

1. Focus on the details

Think about the most successful apps; what do they have in common? It’s likely they feature beautiful typography, empty space, and high resolution imagery. Never underestimate the value of the details; users value beauty as well as flawless navigation. In this age of the retina screen, it’s important to embrace high-resolution images from the start (you can always scale down later).

Winning design by akawizzard for Drivewise.ly, a smart-driving app.

2. Incorporate your brand

This might seem obvious, but you want consistent branding and design in everything from your logo to your website to your app. Colors should be chosen with care, and you should use a logo in your app header (rather than text) to emphasis your branding and increase brand recognition. When Facebook acquired Instagram, for instance, Facebook kept the incredibly recognizable Instagram camera icon, but changed the background features of the app to the standard Facebook blue – maintaining brand recognition for both companies. You want your branding to be so recognizable that when someone sees the color or logo, they think of your app.

3. Remember that a mobile device is not a mini-computer

A common mistake in the early days of app building was to think of smart phones as tiny computers instead of entirely new devices with completely different functions – as well as different expectations on the part of the user. It can be tempting to have your app’s function mimic a website (particularly if your app was a web application first), but that is the wrong approach. When you design for mobile, you need to focus on gestures as part of the function – something you don’t spend nearly as much time considering on web apps.

Winning design by Fuaadh for Chewy, a messaging app.

4. Design for the platform and the phone

Ah, remember when you only had to design for the iPhone? Well, today there are multiple devices and platforms. When designing your app you’ll need it to work on Android as well as iOS, and it’s wise to also consider the Windows platform as the relatively new Windows phone gains in popularity. While some elements can be the same in all platforms – such as splash screens – other parts like utilities need to be handled quite differently. In addition, because phones vary wildly in size, you’ll need to design for those sizes. A smart way to do that is have three sets of graphics: high density, medium density, and low density. You’ll be glad you did.

5. Customize for your user

Typically, it’s the engineer that focuses on user experience, but a mobile app designer (and the business owner!) needs to keep the user in mind as well. Think about the context in which the user interacts with your app; will it work in bright sunlight? Is there a great deal of white text on a dark background, making it difficult for those with vision problems to read it? Does the font work in multiple languages? It’s important to keep all of these aspects in mind while designing your app. A great way to test this, of course, is to find the least tech savvy person in your family and have them test it out – you’ll get great some great insights.

Winning design by B3rto for ScheduleAide, a booking services app.

Mobile app design is challenging but can offer big rewards to your company if you do it right. Any apps you think hit the nail on the head? Tell us in the comments!

The author

Cecily Kellogg
Cecily Kellogg

Cecily Kellogg became an accidental designer when she worked at a short-handed non-profit and although she now prefers designing with words, the lessons she learned from doing graphic design make her work in content development more well-rounded. She writes about the intersection of family, technology, and social media for Babble Tech and runs her own web content business. She is also known for her raw tone and humor on various social media platforms including her own blog, Uppercase Woman. Cecily lives in the Philadelphia area, is happily married, is mom to a fierce and amazing daughter, and has occasionally been called a bad ass.

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