An introduction to mobile UI UX design
Mobile users make up a huge percentage of your target audience. Regardless of the service you are offering, if it is not fully optimised for smartphones then you are missing a lot of untapped potentials.
How? You may ask.
Well, numerous stats indicate how impactful mobile users could be for every brand. For instance, did you know that about 6 billion people use a smartphone? (Statista).
In this article, you will learn why it's important to design for the mobile audience, as well as the crucial principles and elements of mobile UI design.
What is mobile UI UX design?
Mobile design simply refers to the design of user interfaces tailored to mobile devices. These devices include smartphones, tablets and wearables.
Mobile users make up the majority of internet users; most people access the internet through their smartphones. It is crucial to design interfaces that meet conventions and provide a good experience for these users.
Another noteworthy fact is that the behaviour of users who access platforms through the web is slightly different from those who do so through a mobile device.
Why design for mobile?
As mentioned earlier, there's great potential in the mobile market, the numbers indicate this. Asides from mobile versions of websites, the native mobile apps market is a massive one as well, with trends suggesting that steady growth is still expected.
According to Statista, mobile apps are predicted to generate over 600 billion in revenue in 2025. The same study shows that mobile app downloads have steadily increased over the past 10 years (with over 200 billion downloads in 2022)
These are simply not numbers to overlook.
Benefits of designing for mobile
There are different benefits designing for mobile can offer to you as a UX designer, and to your brand.
One of the goals of mobile UI design is to create a rich user experience, a notable way mobile platforms do this is by providing more personalized experiences.
If a brand truly cares about capturing user needs and providing enjoyable experiences to them, then offering mobile versions and applications in addition to a website is a good brand strategy.
Mobile apps can offer push notifications through which you can keep users updated with necessary information.
Enhanced and dedicated features
Mobile applications leverage device components to offer even more enhanced features to users. For instance, using the GPS of a phone, an app can correctly tell a user's location and other notable landmarks close by. This sort of system is used in dating apps, e-commerce delivery, restaurant booking and other similar apps.
GPS Location is not the only feature a mobile device can easily offer. Other hardware features that apps can leverage include proximity sensors, gyroscopes, accelerometers, etc.
Large audience— wider reach
For any business trying to further its reach, the mobile market offers nearly limitless opportunities. This is why most brands that offer a service have a dedicated mobile application or site that complements a standard website. Some businesses rely solely on apps.
Mobile applications are a more convenient way of reaching your users, this is because they offer them the opportunity to connect with your platform wherever they are. Also, to a lot of people, having to access a website through a browser simply means more work than tapping an app icon on their phone's home screen— and you just have to consider that.
Responsive websites are critical for SEO
It is no longer news that Google places a very high priority on mobile-friendly websites. If your site performs well on a desktop but gives users a headache when they try to access it on a mobile browser then it is unlikely to rank high on the search engine. Badly designed sites also result in high bounce rates and other UX problems which are bad for business.
Important principles of mobile UI design
Certain principles and conventions guide the mobile interface design practice. These mobile conventions as they are popularly referred to, exist because:
- The behaviour of users differs when accessing a platform from a mobile device.
- A mobile screen has more limitations than a computer in terms of size.
- A mobile device offers some features unavailable on a computer.
What are the psychological inclinations of mobile users?
Research suggests that about 75% of mobile apps are only opened once.
Mobile users are more likely to abandon a platform than an average web user— they are more likely to be in a hurry and might give no second thought before leaving your app or mobile website.
That said, here are important considerations:
Smaller screen lesser content. This appears like simple logic, but a lot of designers still cluster their interfaces with unnecessary elements leading to cognitive overload.
Minimalism is essential for mobile interface design, the user only needs to see what adds value to their experience. And given the limitations that a mobile screen's size poses, you need to be strategic in how you utilise space.
However, minimalism shouldn't be done to an extent where vital information is eliminated. Also, since users expect your mobile app or site to be consistent with a website, you need to devise means to ensure there is no loss of value to the users.
Famous design philosophies such as less is more and keep it simple, stupid (KISS) help popularize the use of minimalist interfaces in design.
Progressive disclosure is one way to ensure minimalism. Instead of presenting all the information to a user at once, a designer can create an interface that gradually introduces information in stages to the user.
Your mobile UI should offer a fluid and fast experience to users. When designing for mobile, remember that your users are probably on the go and need to quickly access whatever value your platform has to offer them. A sluggish interface can only mean harm for your platform as mobile users are known to be impatient. And it wouldn't take long before your app is relegated to the recycle bin. About 75% of apps are opened just once.
Therefore, it is critical to meet user expectations and mobile standards for a positive user experience, notably a fast and responsive interface free of glitches, noticeable lagging and long load times. Users are used to such experiences and wouldn't expect something less from you.
An interface that is difficult to understand or use will surely annoy a user. One of the core principles of design is to ensure ease of use. People need to know exactly how to find their objective with the least amount of thinking.
Two good ways to promote intuitiveness are consistency and continuity.
Consistently using visual elements that follow mobile conventions in the design of applications helps reduce the mental work a user needs to do before they achieve an objective— because they can easily recognize what they see.
Also, a brand needs to ensure consistency and continuity between all its digital platforms. For instance, if an e-commerce site leads a user to a checkout page after filling a cart, the users will expect a similar flow on interacting with the same platform via their mobile app.
Easy navigation is another great way to ensure intuitiveness in mobile design. It is important to keep navigation simple and utilise standard elements like the home icon, hamburger menus, etc.
Minimal data input
Mobile users do have the liberty of a well-spaced screen or wide keyboard. Therefore, they might find it harder to fill forms or other data input elements.
When designing for mobile, reasonably minimising the data input needed is a good way to ensure that your users do not abandon your app.
Once again, you can use progressive disclosure here to deliver forms or other data input elements in stages.
Follow mobile Conventions
Conventions are there to ensure standards. There are currently billions of apps in the mobile market. Imagine if all of them use unique elements to depict common features like a home screen or a settings icon. That is bound to confuse users and leave them wondering how to use your app.
To prevent that and to ensure a consistent experience for mobile users, there are conventions and elements designers use.
There are two major mobile platforms, iOS and Android OS. Both platforms have their design systems and conventions to help designers make more consistent and beautiful apps. For designing iOS apps, you can use their Human interface design system; for the Android OS, you can use their Material design system.
How to create mobile app UI designs
Designing for mobile isn't so different from designing for desktop or other platforms. The core UI design principles still stand and the UX designer needs them to create mobile interfaces with great aesthetics and benefits.
The design thinking framework is a popular design process that can help designers create truly useful apps. With the aid of this framework, UX designers can empathise with users to know their needs, ideate to find solutions, design and test mobile interfaces to offer these solutions.
However, in designing for mobile, designers need to put the conventions, limitations and strengths of the mobile platform into consideration. At the core of these factors are minimalism, intuitiveness and speed.
Below are a few mobile UI best practices.
Use Splash screens for onboarding
Splash screens are a popular way to get a new user up to speed on how to use the platform. Using these onboarding pages, UX designers can reduce the mental effort users need to expend to achieve their objectives.
Use icons and gestures consistently
One of the major differences between mobile and web design is the use of icons. While icons can be used sparingly in web design, they are a key component of mobile app UI design. Using icons to represent text can help reduce visual clutter.
For instance, using a hamburger menu you can create a drawer with links to other pages instead of placing them horizontally on a tab.
Also, a lot of your user's interaction with your interface would be through gestures. Ensure that these gestures are consistent across pages and also easy to understand.
It is important to consider how your interface will appear on a mobile screen. Most mobile users access their apps in portrait mode— this raises a lot of space concerns.
Therefore, the sizing and layout of your visual elements must take the screen size into account.
Fortunately, most UI design tools like Figma let you design your interface while properly planning out the layout.
Use the UI design principles
Lastly, whether you are designing for desktop or mobile, follow design guidelines that can help you create interfaces that will delight your users.
These universal principles take into account several UX biases and expected user behaviour to ensure that making a new interface is easy.
Responsive websites vs mobile apps
While designing for mobile devices, a popular dilemma you might face is whether to create a responsive website or a dedicated mobile application. Some people might be wondering —what exactly is the difference?
A responsive website is a website that has been adapted for a mobile screen. It is still a website but one designed to display in a mobile browser. In making responsive websites, a UX designer simply recreates the website in a format more fitting for a smartphone — usually by considering mobile conventions and including elements such as hamburger menus, use of icons to replace words, etc.
The goal of creating a responsive website is to ensure that a website is easily accessible on both desktops and mobile devices.
On the other hand, a mobile application is a dedicated application hosted on the device itself, mobile applications run on the native operating system of the device and access the device's hardware components and frameworks.
While consistency is a goal of many brands, and a dedicated mobile application can be made to look like an existing website, the goal of having a mobile app is to leverage the unique features and opportunities the mobile platform offers. Users would not want to go through the stress of downloading a replica of your site.
Progressive enhancement vs graceful degradation in UX design
In creating responsive websites, there are two major techniques UX designers use to adapt screens for mobile. They are:
Progressive enhancement: here the UX designer begins by designing the mobile screens first. This is also known as the mobile-first design approach. The idea is to begin with the small screen and gradually progress into bigger screens for desktops.
Graceful degradation: this is the reverse of progressive enhancement, here the UX designer first creates the screens for a desktop version and then "degrades" these screens into smaller versions for a mobile device.
The final factor to consider when creating an app or responsive website is the accessibility of your mobile UX design.
According to W3C, mobile accessibility means making websites and applications more accessible for people with disabilities. This involves evaluating factors peculiar to mobile and how they can affect your users.
The topic of accessibility in design is a broad one but here are some notable points:
- Small screen sizes should mean less content.
- Mobile users access apps on the go, hence good Contrast is important.
- Ensure a reasonable touch target size.
- Include easy-to-find CTA, e.g, buttons.
- Place important info above the fold content.
Mobile platforms offer more opportunities than any other. Yes, mobile is king. A UX designer who wants to tap this huge potential needs to understand the principles and best practices surrounding mobile UI UX design. In designing for mobile, a designer can reach users on an even more personal level, delivering a rich experience to them.