Great mobile app design: Saving your app from the digital dustbin

By Shamayun Miah

On average, only five apps make up 84 percent of the total time consumers spend using apps on their phone, according to a recent Forrester report. That means that for every frequently visited mobile app, there are hundreds that gather digital dust. Odds are, yours is one of them.

Successful mobile apps have become a manifestation of a shift where the physical and digital worlds are connecting to create a new system of engagement, a unique, contextual experience that truly helps companies reduce costs, access better services and, in some cases, even create new business models.

The journey that mobile apps have gone through parallels that of the web. In the dot-com era, all people wanted was a website, and very few thought about the end-to-end experience. We ended up with a generation of poor websites, even from major brands. We’ve seen a similar progression in mobile apps, from college buddies building them in their basement, to small agencies designing beautiful — but not very functional — apps, to sophisticated, enterprise-class apps that truly address the end-to-end customer experience.

The question that one should ask is: do your mobile apps immediately provide value to your customers? Are they designed to serve a specific purpose? Too many companies miss the mark here, and their apps languish in the depths of their customers’ phones.

Get to know your customers

Addressing customers’ needs requires thoughtful design that puts data and analytics at the heart of the process. You have to know your customers before you can deliver on their expectations. Fortunately, mobile technology offers abundant opportunities to collect data on user behavior, preferences, context, technology usage and even direct feedback. Don’t make it up as you go along — use these valuable insights to inform every aspect of your experience design process, including:

  • Purpose: What do your customers want to accomplish with your app? Are you delivering a solution that keeps them coming back? Embed the core functionality within an experience that speaks to the user.
  • Navigation: If you know what’s most important to your customers, an intuitive interface will streamline their journey to that content in your app.
  • Content: Cluttering your app with features that are ultimately useless to your customers only obscures the core value that you want to provide. Wow them with new content in a purposeful way and an experience that captures their ongoing interest.
  • Visual: Match color, form, font and style with customer preferences; appeal to the senses while keeping in mind what you are communicating about your company brand.
  • Context: Knowing how, when and where your customers are likely to use your app will help you design an experience that they will integrate into their lives and that will complement all your other brand touchpoints.

A framework for user-centric design

You want to provide that one app that customers can’t live without. But more than that, mobile apps have become the focal point for broader customer experiences that span multiple channels. Purposeful design informed by data and analytics is key to an integrated mobile experience that connects you more deeply to your customers, everywhere they are.

When we co-create with clients, IBM Interactive Experience uses IBM Design Thinking so that every decision we make is focused on better serving the user. This framework is critical in helping us design engaging mobile experiences, like the banking app we created for Nationwide in the UK. We worked with Nationwide to find out how their customers use their phones, their lifestyles, how they want to manage their money, their future aspirations, what they want to do in a mobile app and more. Then together, we spent days developing the desired customer experience, applying the data and insights, collecting feedback and iterating again and again. The award-winning app was a hit with Nationwide’s banking customers because it was designed just for them.

Data-driven design for success

When someone is disappointed by a poor app, the first thing they do is delete it. Unfortunately, there is no universal blueprint for excellence that will ensure that your app is saved. What makes an app truly great for one market or company may not work for another. The longevity of an app will also differ — great design today will be good tomorrow and average the day after. Therefore, it’s critical that all apps are up to date, work on the latest operating systems, never crash and always respond within two or three seconds. Your competitors and consumer interest are moving fast, and you have to move fast too as you continuously evolve your app’s experience design.

Essentially, mobile app success or failure is judged by your customers, so listen to — and apply — what they’re saying. They’ll reward you with their attention, engagement, business and long-term loyalty.

Written By

Shamayun Miah

Partner & Vice President at IBM GBS

Shamayun is an IBM global executive with deep experience in technology, consulting and business. In addition to his role as Vice President and Partner, IBM Global Business Services, Cloud Application Innovation Offerings, he has been leading the IBM Mobile Centre of Competence since…

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