5 Ways to Design an Addictive Mobile App

Sure, we all may not be the next Snapchat. But by taking a thoughtful approach to the design process and paying close attention to human behavior, you can help your app stand out from the masses.

Statistically speaking, most mobile apps are destined to fail. In its 2014 Mobility Predictions, research firm Gartner estimated that less than .01 percent of mobile apps will be considered a financial success by their developers through 2018.


Yet still, we hunger for that chance to be the .01 percent. We long to build the platforms that our audiences become shamefully addicted to. The products they go to sleep and wake up with. The apps they resort to during an awkward elevator ride or on the toilet. The things their friends and family complain takes too much of their attention, until they start using them themselves. We aim to create apps that are downright awesome and take off like wildfire.

Sure, we all may not be the next Snapchat. But by taking a thoughtful approach to the design process and paying close attention to human behavior, you can help your app stand out from the masses.

1. Understand where you fit in

Before you even begin to think about your own app, take the time to understand where it will fit into this ultra-competitive landscape. What will it do differently or better (or both)? Download and use any and every app that is remotely similar to yours and take note of what you love and hate.

Be a creepy online stalker: chat with other like-minded app creators to discover their inspiration and challenges. If you spend a fair amount of time understanding whom your competitors truly are, you’ll be ideally situated to differentiate your own brilliant concept.

2. One hand or two?

Understanding the context of use for your product might be the most important thing when designing. Decide if your app is intended to be used on-the-go or leisurely. Is your user more likely to open this up while waiting in line for coffee or lounging on their sofa? This will determine if your app is a one-handed or two-handed app.

Leisure apps (games, reading, video, social networking) can afford to be a luxurious two-handed experience that can include complex interactions, animations and various hard-to-reach buttons. On-the-go apps (messaging, weather, mapping, news) must be quick, simple and usable with one hand.

With the increasing screen size of phones, this means that you can forget about hamburger-basements and really anything above the thumb line for your interface. Instead, stick to tab bar navigation like Instagram and don’t be afraid to go with the double-tab bar if you have to.

It’s important for your users to be comfortable. Leisure apps should consider the tablet as their second platform while on-the-go apps should consider a smartwatch as their second platform. Keep this in the back of your mind when going “mobile-first” so you wont have to struggle to achieve cross-platform consistency later on.

Slack for iOS Upload

3. Design slowly

Look for inspiration anywhere you can find it, and be sure to cast a wide net. Caffeinate yourself and aggregate and analyze precedents on Dribbble, Behance or Pinterest. Always carry a sketchbook so you can jot down notes and sketch out ideas before you lose them.

When you finally sit down to design your app, start by making greyscale wireframes and then slowly add fonts and little bits of color. Try to keep things simple at first, as they will inevitably get complicated! Just a heads up: for every six designs you come up with there will be one good one.

4. Take “The Intuition Test”

The most successful apps are also the most intuitive. After you build your first prototype give it to drunk people or babies. Sit back and watch them struggle through your interface, attempting to apply their existing knowledge of apps and acquire the new skills you might be trying to teach them. Take notes, revise, and then continuing testing. Walk yourself through the user sequences and scenarios again and again.  What if they touch “this” but can’t get back “there?”

5. Walk away, then come back

Give your app to as many of your friends, friends of friends, and family as you can find. Be sure to track them with analytics software and send out a short survey. Then sit back and take a break for two weeks.  Work on a new project in a different medium. After a couple of weeks take a look at your big data: time, clicks, views, etc.

You will be surprised at how lazy and impatient people are. Revise designs based on these metrics as they are the most important and revealing. By now, you should have something useful, comfortable, intuitive, and if you’re lucky, wildly addictive.

AORTIZPhoto - RMoranisHeadshots-4Rachel Moranis is the Creative Director and one of the founding members of BriefMe, the news ranking app that is changing they way people experience news by identifying the 10 most consumed and shared news articles of the moment.

Top image courtesy of Shutterstock.