In 2017, over 91 billion apps were downloaded from the iOS App Store and Google Play (which doesn’t include all of the third-party app stores and app stores for other platforms). That’s a lot of apps—roughly 13 per person—on the entire planet. With so many apps being downloaded, it’s no wonder that the average app has a churn rate of 57% in the first month (users who don’t open the app more than once during the first 30 days after downloading it) and a whopping 71% after 90 days.

If any part of an app is undesirable, or slow to get the hang of, users will opt to install a new one rather than stick it out with the imperfect product. Nothing is wasted for the consumer when disposing of an app, other than possibly a few dollars (and they know they can download the app again at any time). The only loss is the time and effort of the designers and developers.

Designers ought to observe mobile app design best practices.

So, why is it that so many apps fail? Is this a predictable phenomenon that app designers and developers should accept? For clients, is this success rate acceptable? What does it take to prevent your apps from being deleted without a second thought?

The most common mistakes span from failing to maintain consistency throughout the lifespan of an app to difficulty attracting users in the first place. It’s challenging to design an app with intuitive simplicity without it becoming repetitive and boring. An app has to offer pleasing design and UX details without losing sight of a greater purpose.

Most apps live and die in the first few days, so following some basic mobile app design best practices and avoiding the most common mistakes will help designers create apps that live past that 90-day mark.

Common Mistake #1: A Poor First Impression

Often, the first use or first day with an app is the most critical period to hook a potential user. The first impression is so critical that it could be an umbrella point for all of the other mobile design best practices. If anything goes wrong, or appears confusing or boring, potential users are quickly disinterested.

The proper balance for first impressions is tricky, though. In some cases, a lengthy onboarding process to discover necessary features can bore users. Yet without proper onboarding, some apps will just confuse users if they’re not instantly intuitive. Creating an app that is immediately intuitive while also introducing users to the most exciting, engaging features quickly is a delicate balancing act.

Although it can be a good way to get someone quickly oriented, drawn-out onboarding can also stand in the way of users doing what they want to do with the app. Often, these tutorials are too long and are swiped through blindly.

Keep in mind that when users first use an app, they don’t necessarily have any waypoints for how the app should function or what it can do. Proper beta testing process allows designers to learn how others perceive an app from the beginning. What seems obvious to the design team may not be for newcomers.

Mobile design best practices include good onboarding

Mobile onboarding design (by Johan Adam Horn)

Common Mistake #2: Designing an App Without Purpose

Avoid entering the design process without clear intentions. Apps are too often designed and developed in order to follow trends rather than to solve a problem, fill a niche, or offer a distinct service.

For the designer and their team, the app’s purpose will affect every step of a project. It guides every decision, from the branding or marketing of an app to the wireframe format to the button aesthetic. If the purpose is clear, each piece of the app will communicate and function as a coherent whole.

Conveying this vision to potential users means that they will understand the value an app brings to their life. The vision needs to be clearly communicated from the user’s first impression. How quickly can the vision for the app be conveyed to users? How will it improve a person’s life or provide some sort of enjoyment or comfort? As long as an app’s usefulness is conveyed immediately to users, it’s likely to be part of the 21% of apps that make it past the first 90 days.

When entering an existing market, there are apps designed for that space designers can study as a baseline. They can improve upon what is already out there or provide a unique alternative in order to stand out. They shouldn’t thoughtlessly imitate.

Careful mobile UX design will follow mobile user experience best practices.

Common Mistake #3: Failing to Optimize User Flow

Designers should be careful not to skip over thoughtful planning of an app’s UX architecture before jumping into design work. Even before getting to a wireframing stage, the user flow and structure of an app should be mapped out. Designers are often too excited to produce aesthetics and details. This results in a culture of designers who generally under-appreciate UX and the necessary logic or navigation within an app.

Slow down. Sketch out the flow of the app first before worrying too much about the finer details. Apps often fail from a lack of flow and organization, rather than imperfect details. Once the design process takes off, always keep the big picture in mind. The details and aesthetic should then clearly evoke and reinforce the greater concept.

Mobile UX best practices include a well-defined user flow.

A well-thought-out user flow diagram (by Michael Pons)

Common Mistake #4: Disregarding App Development Budget

As soon as the basic features and functions of an app are sketched, it’s a good time to talk about the budget with the development team. This prevents spending a ton of time designing features and UX patterns that end up needing to be cut when the development team doesn’t have the resources to implement them.

Learning the average costs of constructing particular concepts is a valuable addition to a designer’s toolkit, as it makes it easier to adapt design thinking to economic constraints. Budgets should be useful design constraints to work within, rather than viewed as frustrations.

Common Mistake #5: Cramming in Design Features

Hopefully, rigorous wireframing and prototyping will make the distinction between necessary and excessive functions clear. Each individual mobile platform is already the ultimate swiss army knife, so your app doesn’t need to be. Not only will cramming an app with features lead to a disorienting user experience, but an overloaded app will also be difficult to market.

Cramming too many features in is bad mobile app design.

Many failed apps try to cram too many features in from launch.

If the app can’t be explained in a concise way, it’s likely trying to do too much. Paring down features is always hard, but it’s necessary. The best strategy might be to gain users in the beginning with just one or two features before testing new additions in later releases to see what resonates with users. This way, the additional features are less likely to interfere with the crucial first few days of an app’s life.

Common Mistake #6: Dismissing App Context

Although purpose and end goals are important, they become irrelevant if not directed within the proper context. The UI for a given app may seem obvious to the design team, but first-time users and users from different demographics may not find it as intuitive. For example, millennial users of an app might find certain functions intuitive, while retirees might find those same things confusing (or vice versa).

Consider the immediate context or situation in which the app is intended to be used. For example, Uber’s interface excels at being used very quickly. This is perfect because when a user is out with friends and needs to book a ride, they barely have to interrupt their conversation in the process. Uber hides a lot of support content deep within the app that only appears when the scenario calls for it.

Is your app meant to be accessed quickly and for a short period of time? Or, is this an app with lots of content that allows users to stay a while? How will the design convey this type of use? Consider these points carefully when mapping out your app’s UX flow.

Following app design best practices, designers need to consider context.

Good mobile design should consider the context in which it is used.

Common Mistake #7: Abusing Notifications

Push notifications are a finicky part of app design best practices. Too many, and users will turn them off entirely, risking the app being forgotten about. Too few, and the same fate occurs.

But it’s not just the frequency of notifications that can turn users on or off. It’s also the content. Useful notifications, such as those notifying users of a new message or reminding them to make a daily check-in, are seen as helpful and necessary. Apps that send seemingly random updates or notifications about news that doesn’t directly affect the user are more likely to see their notifications turned off completely.

Every notification is a microinteraction that can either enhance the user experience and reinforce the overall usefulness of the app or risk alienating users and, in extreme cases, prompting them to delete the app all together.

Push notifications are an important part of good mobile design.

Push notifications are a delicate balancing act in good mobile design (by Jona Nalder).

Common Mistake #8: Overcomplicating App Design

The famous architect Mies Van der Rohe once said, “It’s better to be good than to be unique.” It’s vital that the design meet the specs in the brief before designers start breaking the box or adding other flourishes.

Design elements added to make a composition more visually appealing still need to add value to the user experience. Continue to ask throughout the design process, how much can I remove? Design reductively instead of additively.

Over-complexity is often a result of unnecessarily breaking conventions. Will the app really benefit from reworking the standard symbols and interfaces within mobile visual and tactile language? Standard icons have proven themselves to be universally intuitive. Thus, they are often the quickest way to provide visual cues without cluttering a screen.

Don’t let design flourishes get in the way of the actual content or function of the app. Often, apps are not given enough white space. While it’s vital to good design in general, it’s especially important for mobile designs, as a cluttered interface isn’t particularly touch-friendly.

Mobile app design best practices often require a reductive process.

The app design process can be reductive, rather than additive.

Common Mistake #9: Design Inconsistencies

If a design is going to introduce new standards, they have to at least be consistent across the app. Each new function or piece of content doesn’t necessarily have to be an opportunity to introduce a new design concept.

Is the text uniformly formatted? Do UI elements behave in predictable, yet pleasing ways throughout the app? Design consistency must find the balance between existing common visual language and avoiding being aesthetically stagnant. The balance between intuitive consistency and boredom is a fine line.

Common Mistake #10: Under-utilizing App Beta Testing

All designers should analyze the use of their apps with some sort of feedback loop in order to learn what is and isn’t working. A common mistake in testing is for a team to do their beta testing in-house. It’s imperative to bring in fresh eyes in order to really dig into the drafts of the app.

Send out an ad for beta testers and work with a select audience before going public, or use a testing service like UserZoom. This can be a great way to iron out details, edit down features, and find what’s missing. Beta testing can be time consuming, but it’s definitely a better alternative to developing an app that flops.

Following mobile UI design best practices will yield superior results.

Designers should pay special attention to mobile user testing as potential users are fickle (source: Fake Crow).

It’s important for design teams to recognize just how competitive the mobile app market is and to do whatever possible to differentiate their offering from the hundreds or thousands of other apps occupying the same space. To do this, they need to have a coherent vision of what the mobile app is hoping to achieve. Following mobile app design best practices and using an iterative design process that incorporates user feedback into the entire process is one of the best ways to do this, and will create an app that stands out.

Understanding the Basics

How is beta testing done?

Beta testing is done by real users in a real environment as the final testing step before an app or product is released "live" to the public. Beta testing can be done via apps that record actual user behavior or in a more simplified way by using user interviews and surveys.

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Kaue Ribeiro
Great article. I also agree that #1 is truly the most important.
Steven Parker
Nice post to better understand where the enterprise might be going wrong. We should avoid these 10 common mobile app design mistakes that can result in the creation of inadequate mobile apps.
Great post! Been there and done many of this errors specially #1 and #4. First impressions count and don't overestimate budget. It's difficult to make things easy for other web products I would recommend reading "Don't make me think" and also
Very Informative post and it quite helpful to me. Thanks for sharing
Gapps Developer
Go tell that to potential customers :\
Untitled Kingdom
Definitely good points! Since this is an evergreen blog topic for new people in the industry, me and my colleagues had a brainstorm about most common mistakes also, but limited ourselves to naming three major ones: check it out to see whther you agree or not:
HM Sathish
Great posts.. And great thoughts too.. Very informative and charming
Enrique west
If you manage to stay away from the mistakes mentioned above, you should be able to develop a solid app that you will be able to monetize and will be free of any critical bugs. Whatever you do, make sure to hire as many beta testers as possible, consider all platforms, consider monetization early and don’t make the mistake of thinking that mobile apps are miniature websites if you want your app to stand out.
anil rao
Agreed with you, but it happens when a MVP product is launched.
Sam sandy
This article is very much helpful and i hope this will be an useful information for the needed one. Keep on updating these kinds of informative things.
Stacy Pears
For mobile app success, UI (User Interface) and UX (User Experience) are the two elements that you cannot miss. User Interface explores how an app looks and interacts with a user whereas User Experience defines the overall experience of the user when using an application. The major motive of mobile apps success is to fulfill key business objectives for generating revenues, traffic and brand building.
Divya Patil
Very fantastic and well-written post. It’s extremely good and very helpful for me. Thanks for sharing this great post.
The app business is tough - and this is a great article to get you started.
Gabriel P. Elizondo
Great post!
Anas Abu Sara
What a great post, It's very useful and I learn a lot from it Thank you :)
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