Matt Johnston

@whynotmatt

The Most Important Question To Ask When Designing A Mobile App

Sometimes the most difficult client to work with is one who is so excited that they have ideas running out of their ears. They looked at a tons of apps, picked the best feature from each app and then said that they want all those features in their app. Enthusiasm is great, but developers often have to bring clients back to reality about what makes a good app. Adding features isn’t what makes an app great. In fact, the opposite may be true.

Before adding a new feature to an app ask this question:

What value does this add for the user?

Pretty straight forward, nothing philosophical or technical. Just basic common sense. If a feature isn’t adding value, it probably is taking away value.

Determining Feature Value

Every app should have a goal for the user. The goal for games is to give users enjoyment, social network apps allow users to connect, and fitness apps encourage and track progress. When designing your app, one of the first things that should be decided is what is the goal of this app.

With a defined goal, you can now look at your app features and ask, how does this feature help me reach that goal? If I took out this feature, would the user still be able to reach the goal? If the feature helps achieve the goal, then it will provide value to the user.

As an example, lets examine a news app with the goal to “inform its’ users about today’s headlines”. To reach that goal, the app should prominently display headlines and stories for the most recent news. So if we wanted to add in an “archives” section of past news, would that help achieve the goal? Probably not. Yesterday’s news is no longer the most recent news. So unless the users are asking for a way to read past new stories, an “archives” feature would not provide a lot of value to this app.

Restraint is Key

The best mobile apps that I have seen are ones where the functionality of the app is focused and the navigation options are limited.

Websites have a lot of screen real estate to work with and can put lots of navigation links throughout the layout. On mobile, the screen size is considerably smaller, so you have to be really intentional about what navigation options you present to the user. When presenting a group of navigation links, like bottom tabs or options inside a hamburger menu, don’t make the user scroll. If the user has to scroll, you probably have too many options. Try reducing the number of items.

Another area that is easily overused is social logins. Before adding social logins you need to examine your audience and figure out what social networks your users are actively using. Over 70% of internet users have Facebook accounts while less than 25% of users have a Twitter account. If you include a Twitter login, it may be used by 25% of your users, but it could also be ignored by 75% of your users.

Which social networks are valuable to your app really depends on your target audience. If your app is used in a professional setting, including LinkedIn as a login option may make more sense than Facebook since your users would be more inclined to associate their “professional” social account with their work instead of their “personal” social account. If your app targets developers, having a Github login option may make sense.

Track Usage With Analytics

During the app development process, a lot of assumptions are made about how the app will be used. Test groups are a great way to study how users interact with your app. But they can only tell you so much because of the limited number of testers. Once your app is launched to a public audience, you may have a lot of people using your app in ways that you never intended. And that fancy feature that you spent months on may be completely ignored.

An easy way to track what features your users value is to use analytics. By setting up custom events to track each time users interact with a feature, you will be able to understand which features are the most valued. If a feature isn’t being used at all, ask yourself if the feature has enough value to remain in the app, or if it should be removed.

Solicit Suggestions From Users

What if you want to add a new feature but are worried that no one will use it? Ask your users first. Run a quick survey inside your app asking your users what features they would like to see added to the app. They may come up with ideas that you never thought of or they may validate your assumptions about a potential new feature.

Convincing a client to not include a certain feature will always be a tough conversation. Be prepared to show them that by not including a feature, the app actually becomes stronger. Limiting options that a user has to choose from can increase engagement.

If you want to connect with your users and see which features they value most, take a look at User Hook. We developed User Hook as a suite of tools to help developers increase user retention through in-app surveys, feedback forms, and push messaging. Sign up for free today and get started with our iOS and Android SDKs.

If you are looking for help with a digital project, check out our company Cullaboration Media. We also help mobile apps with user engagement and feedback through our User Hook service.

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