Not just a pretty face: Using mobile design trends to improve user experience
Many current mobile design trends are continuations of popular styles from the last couple of years. These design choices focus predominantly on improving the user experience by making apps simpler, faster and more intuitive — all important factors considering how quickly mobile app use is growing.
ComScore’s 2014 mobile trends report, summarized by V3B, states that people spend 52 percent of their “digital time” in mobile apps, and most respondents spent 7 out of every 8 mobile minutes in apps.
However, despite today’s mobile-first world, the B2B app space isn’t nearly as sophisticated as B2C. B2B companies have to reassess whether their laggard state can continue — and the answer is most likely no. Fortunately, the people using B2B apps are the same ones who’ve been using B2C apps for years. This means developers of business-oriented mobile apps can learn what makes a positive mobile experience by taking cues from popular B2C apps.
Here are five popular mobile design trends that all sectors can use to develop front-line apps that hold users’ attention.
1. Functional Animation
Due to development and bandwidth improvements, much more movement is happening in apps. But it’s movement with a purpose.
Movement is at the top of the design hierarchy because it will immediately draw the user’s attention. Thus, animated elements will provide hints on how to use the app for a fuller, more intuitive user experience. Functional animation can also ground the user by providing clear context when it comes to navigation. Think of a calendar day zoom in/out function or information cards that fold and unfold.
Finally, movable elements can be used to deliver task confirmation so users don’t have to wonder whether their action was completed. Developers can use a star burst to signify a completed task or a pulsing arrow to indicate an in-process transfer.
2. Depth and the Z-axis
Of all the mobile design trends, added depth will be particularly valuable for business-oriented mobile apps. Layered design schemes allow developers to maintain the flat-design aesthetic while increasing space for data and functionality. Expect greater usage of the z-axis, which establishes depth in three-dimensional objects, and visual clues hinting at elements behind one another.
For instance, compare how a person searches through a personal contact app as opposed to an enterprise customer relationship management (CRM) program. Instead of searching for one name, the user is looking for all employees at a prospect company. The enterprise CRM app could show a deep stack of cards with corners peeking out for the user to flip through.
Greater use of depth also enables shorter, more contextual menus and tasks. Earlier user interfaces demanded that apps focus on doing one thing well. However, business-oriented apps need to provide more functionality. Layers allow apps to present only the functionality needed in a specific context so users aren’t overwhelmed.
3. More Gesturing
Smartphones and tablets with larger screens offer more space for gestures. Buttons and tappable elements aren’t going away; they’re getting larger to reduce fat-finger foibles.
Additionally, people are holding larger mobile devices in different ways. It’s no longer just the one-handed thumb tap while holding a coffee in the other hand. People now cradle their devices in one hand, using the other to navigate.
Understanding the situations in which people will use the app and how they’ll be holding the device opens up a larger range of swiping motions to facilitate navigation.
4. The Long Scroll
According to research from design agency Huge, people are scrolling through apps regardless of page layout. This means that above-the-fold restrictions no longer constrain designers. Just as depth adds more space for functionality and information, so does elongating the mobile screen. Developers may need to think about how they can add more visual clues to indicate where users should scroll.
5. Creating Hierarchy With Muted Palettes
The mobile design trends of flat design and muted colors are still going strong, but the newest permutation of the muted colors trend will be using color gradients or shading to establish hierarchy among elements. Designers can use font color to delineate top-level data from secondary information. Background colors on buttons or menu items can direct users to the most useful options based on the user’s current context.
Gradients or shades can also help designers stick to soft palettes that are easy on the eyes while still achieving contrast. With this trend, there’s no need to throw up a harsh fire-engine red button so it sticks out. Instead, a soft, heavy green can stand out on a yellow background without any of the colors being too loud.
Similar to this mobile design trend is more deliberate use of white space. A muted palette has less contrast, so broad white spaces help support the hierarchy. They also remove the need to clutter the screen with other elements like line dividers or borders.