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Key rules when designing mobile apps

Author's avatar By Expert commentator 15 Dec, 2015
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UI Design Principles That Every Mobile App Developer Must Abide By

User Interface and user experience go hand in hand and as a designer, you can ensure exceptional UI for your mobile app only when you follow some tried and tested UI design principles. The user interface design for a mobile app is different than web and hence, must be approached in a different manner.

Mobile App UI Design principles

Some principles to follow while designing a mobile app’s UI

It is always advisable to stick to certain principles that are accepted by the designers’ community and aid in designing an appealing user interface. Such a user interface not only attracts the user but also helps retain them in the long run.

  • Consistency of the design layout: Different sections of the app must be coherent in design, and there must be a consistency in the design throughout the app. Apps like Evernote, Netflix, and Dropbox deliver great consistency in the design layout. Consistency also applies to the common features of the apps build for the same OS. For instance, if one of the apps on your mobile phone changes the way you delete content and the new way is completely different from other apps, you are bound to get annoyed.
  • Clear and obvious interactive element: The design elements that are interactive in nature must be clearly depicted as one. It must be obvious to the users so that they use it when required. Options hidden in menu may sometime be forgotten. A range of A/B tests have revealed that conspicuous menu options are not good for the apps. At least, the key navigation elements must be visible. 
  • Single trial learning experience: The term ‘Intuitive’ is often used for the apps to suggest that they are very user friendly. Actually, this word implies single trial learning which means that users understand the flow of the app without remembering the steps. The options should be so placed that the users can infer what must be the next step. 
  • Anticipate and answer users’ queries: When the users tap a button, they want to know whether the process has started and how long will it take. As the technology abstracts the actions, the users are usually kept in the dark while the process is going on. Using Toast in Android and iOS, message about completion of a process can be displayed to the users apprising them of the process status. The Gmail app is a good example of such a design as it displays the messages like “saved in draft, message sent, etc. to inform the users about the completion of the task.
  • Layered User Experience: The UX should be layered. By layered, it is meant that all the features of an app must not be exposed at once. It should surface out as the users delve deeper into the app and discover new things. This would help in keeping the users’ interest intact for a longer time. WhatsApp offers a good layered experience, as users explore new features as they go deeper into the app.  
  • Dynamic filtering: This search pattern filters the data already on the screen on the basis of the keyword that you type. This is one of the striking features of web 2.0. It differs from Auto Complete in the sense that the objects to be filtered are already displayed on the screen.
  • Auto complete pattern: This type of search has made the life easier for the users. As the name suggests, it completes the few letter of the keyword typed in by the users and shows the complete word or sentence as suggestions It also saves the effort of the users and thus offers a great user experience.
  • In-App Search In-app search feature makes an app more usable for the end users. More intuitive is the in-app search, better is the experience that a user derives from the app. There are proven search patterns that make the in-app search feature a treat for the end-users.
  • Recent searches: This search type makes the search field intuitive by presenting the users a list of recently searched keywords. It saves the effort put in by the users and hence, enhance the usability of the app.
  • Search criteria form: This is a search pattern where the users can search for the desired information by providing information in a preset pattern. Such search patterns take the input through a form where the users feeds in the query through a set of search filters. Hotel booking is the perfect example for this type of search pattern as the users have to fill multiple set of information to know the room availability and tariff.

Some Technical Guidelines from OS Standpoint

OS Specific Designs

Depending on the mobile operating system, the design must be specific. As with the latest version of Android, Material design must be followed in the apps. Several iOS designs patterns used in Cocoa will be good for the iOS apps.

User Input

Typing on a smartphone is not a breeze. For typing different characters, you need to press the shift button quite frequently. To make things easier for the users, the app must open the most apt iteration of the keyboard. Moreover, the auto-capitalization, auto-correct, and auto-complete mode must also be enabled according to the requirement.

Utilize the true potential of the mobile platform

The mobile device that runs the app might have certain hardware features that might enhance the functionalities of the mobile app. The app’s UI must utilize these features like front camera, gyroscope, high resolution HD display, finger-print unlocking, GPS and few others.


 These UI principles when kept in mind while designing the user interface for a mobile app, will yield superior design layout and offer great User experience. The users of a mobile app need to be impressed within the few seconds after they start using it. Make use of these principles to make the most of these few seconds.


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