How do you design a great app for mobile? Is it about shiny graphics? Is it new clever widgets? Perhaps the great data? Why are your favourite apps the best?

The best apps are those that are designed to delight the user which is not easy! I am currently running an exciting project where we are in that design phase, which is the most critical stage of any mobile project. This phase includes the following steps:

  • Define user value and objectives
  • Identify what how the app will delight a user
  • Build an app map showing screens and features and how they connect (see picture of ours about half finished)
  • Identify data and network requirements
  • Test wireframes
  • Review against user stories and iterate
  • Push boundaries
Knowing how the app provides value for the user is key. Ensuring that the user experience is simple, easy, self explanatory and quick.Most mobile app usage is in 60 - 120 second blasts, so it needs to be quick for the user to discover.
Where do you start?
Some apps are quite complex so finding where to start focus can be tricky. It will change depending on the user goals. Sometimes it makes sense to go through the user stories serially. I like to start thinking about the user who has downloaded your app and used it. What makes this user keep coming back, why do they look at the app every day? I call this the "60 Second Delight". Considering why the user will keep returning and how the app will delight them in 60 seconds helps identify the true value of the app to surface really quickly. With the 60 second delight understood, I then switch to the First Run experience. The user journey of the app for the first ever experience is often different tweaked to educate the user on how to engage with your app. It is really important to consider your user journey, try to ensure consistency and re-use interaction concepts. An adaptive learning approach to using the app is key, it allows you to develop powerful apps that implicitly teach the user with no need for a manual. I wish Enterprise Systems would learn from this!
The design phase should involve a lot of paper, cellotape, biro and lots of whiteboard action! This is the quickest way to iterate through designs. It may be required to digitalise your wireframes for sharing and collaboration, dont rush to have then electronically drawn, you will loose creativity! Remember you can photograph your sketches or white board!
Getting feedback on your wireframes is key.
I have seen great review processes and really shockingly poor reviews. Getting the review right will impact on the quality of feedback and the end product. There are some key guidelines:
  1. Show the wireframes in the correct context. eg, on an iphone
  2. Help the reviewer, not everyone can read wireframes and the missing graphics etc may leave some people confused, so walk people through it
  3. Listen carefully. The areas that leave reviewers confused are going to need extra work
  4. When a user has walked through the wireframes ask them to complete some of the user journey, and review the experience of the user journey.
The most important aspect of reviewing wireframes is your mindset. Are you getting feedback of the user journey to confirm how great your ideas are? You could be getting feedback to rip holes in your ideas so you can make them even better?
For me, there is only one point to a review of wireframes, to rip designs to pieces so they  can be put back together even better! If you have the mindset that your ideas are the best in the world and no can find any holes then dont waste people's time asking for feedback just go release them!
Don't rush!
Try to avoid thinking about how your app will be technically built or what the graphics will look and feel like, this will only hinder your focus on user journey and experience. When wireframes can delight, it is time to look at the UI can achieve beautiful designs with deep and rich textures.
AuthorDave Martin