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How to Design an App the Right Way: 6 Steps to Supercharge Your App Development


App design is more science than art. There are some critical steps in the app design phase that can make or break your app development process.

If the last 4 years of rolling out some of the most successful and engaging new apps have taught us anything, it’s that these 6 steps are not negotiable – if you want to develop a top-tier app in time.

So here’s how to design an app – the right way.

6 Steps: How to Design an App to Supercharge Development

Start with App Validation

Testing, vetting and validating the initial app idea is an optional but highly recommended first step before heading into the app design phase. This involves rigorous research and proof-of-concept, which greatly informs most of the steps in the app design process. See more on validating your app idea and discover the framework for testing your product concept before development with app idea validation, and then see exactly how long it takes to validate an idea.

Also see the steps to validate your mobile app idea, how to check if an app idea already exists and how to run some key validation experiments.

1. Describe the App Purpose, Objectives & Users

For effective app design, the design team needs to gain a deep understanding of why the app exists and how it’s meant to work. This requires a free flow of information between the designers and the app owner, as well as research on the design team’s part.

At Specno, we’ve found that having a series of initial “discovery” and exploratory meetings and conversations is vital to equip the design team with the info they need to design the app effectively.

In this exploratory phase, it’s important to gain a clear picture of:

  • The app’s purpose
    It’s important to have a clear understanding of the problems the app must solve, the users it serves and how it solves their problems.
  • Its commercial objectives
    Fully understanding the business model of the app is absolutely vital for understanding the ideal outcomes of the app – and optimising design specifically for those outcomes. These also become the metrics for measuring the app design’s success.

  • The target users
    Any app is designed for a specific set of users, and these might be quite divergent in their characteristics, goals and needs. So it’s vital to identify a range of archetypal user personas that each represent a large group of prospective app users. And then develop individual user journeys for each persona.

See all the must-have retail app features for personalised user journeys.

2. Create the System Architecture

Before design starts, it’s vital to map out the overall structure and behaviour of the app. This system architecture outlines how the various components will work together to guide user journeys, and how the app will function as a whole.

It’s useful to think of app architecture in 3 layers:

  • Presentation layer
    The user interface (UI) where data is presented and interactions happen.
  • Business layer
    The logic tier where processing takes place, and data exchange and workflow is managed.
  • Data layer
    The database, storage and utilities the app needs to function – from APIs to networks.

The system architecture is designed by first identifying the main sections, pages and screens the app UI needs, as well as the navigation between all of these. And then identifying all the main features, logic, processes, data management and authentications needed to make those work. 

It’s important to plan for all the possible user interactions with each page, component and feature, to be able to rapidly test various ideas and designs to guide users toward their goals and objectives effectively.

Note: This is very important step in any app creation process because a well-designed architecture ensures you have good functionality from the get-go and can enhance app performance by being sure it is used efficiently and effectively.

A good system architecture should also be designed to accommodate future growth and expansion (scalability), easy maintenance so you can do regular updates and roll out new features, as well as ensuring you have a seamless and intuitive user experience that attracts and retains users.

3. Map it out with Flat/Low-Fidelity Wireframes 

This early in app development, you want to be able to rapidly test different ideas to ensure you get the best design possible. And that’s why it’s best to start off by creating “flat” or low-fidelity wireframes. These are simple, two-dimensional illustrations of the app layout, screens and pages that do not include any styling or visual design elements. 

Low-fidelity wireframes give you ideas on the placement of elements and the relationships between them on each page and allow you to experiment with different placements and even navigation. Which is really good for rapid testing and gathering feedback before moving on to more detailed designs.

Note: This is a good time to invite testers to engage with the wireframes, and gather all the feedback you can get. Check particularly that users can actually achieve their objectives just by engaging with the wireframes and identifying any additional steps or processes the app might need.

4. Create the UX Wireframes

With the initial wireframes tested and explored, and stakeholder feedback received, it’s time to refine and iterate the designs until the final UX wireframes can be locked down.

This step normally greatly interests stakeholders, since it gives them a more complete picture of what the final app will look like and how it will behave. This is the time to communicate the overall design ideas and showcase as many key elements of the app as possible.

A good UX wireframe should include:

  • A visual representation of the app layout
    At this stage, stakeholders want to see detailed designs of all screens, features and components, including elements such as buttons, menus, forms etc. Even if the wireframe does not include the final content, it should at least have placeholder content (such as "Lorem ipsum" text) so that the layout and desig hierarchy of the app is clear.
  • Navigation and flow
    The wireframes should also include a clear representation of the navigation and flow through the app, including how users will move from one page to another and how different sections of the app are linked together.

  • Interactions and states
    Finally, the wireframes should ideally showcase how the app behaves when a user clicks, scrolls, or submits a form – any interaction that the system responds to, as well as process states such as loading screens and feedback states such as error messages. 

Also see these signs you need a UX audit, a breakdown of the UX audit process. and what goes into a full-scope UX audit and redesign.

Note: If the purpose or function of any elements on the UX wireframe is not overtly clear, it’s good practice to include labels and annotations to help clarify these for stakeholders.

5. Create the Final UI Design

The final app design includes all content, navigation, layout and design on every screen of the app. It shows how the app creates moments of delight for users and shows all interactions, states and engagements. Almost as if the app is already running.

These high-fidelity mockups are detailed and visually polished, showing all the final design elements, including colours, fonts, imagery and iconography. So that stakeholders get a complete final picture of the app so that the design can still be iterated and fine tuned before roll-out as needed.

6. Prepare all Assets for the Developer Team

Once the final UI design is approved, the design team will develop and export all the UI assets – icons, buttons, imagery, as well as the code needed to generate those icons – that are needed to build/update the app.

And, finally, the team will document all assets, which may involve creating documentation such as a style guide to outline the intended use of different assets and groups or detailed information on each asset. 

In terms of support, the design team will then hand over to the development team to integrate the assets into the app’s codebase and be on hand to test the implementation and do any further iterations that may be required.

Plus: Did you know you can build 3 times faster? See how long it takes to build a low-code app and get the right price with beneficial low code development cost. Also see how to outsource app development successfully, an in-depth exploration of new app development all get you need to know about selecting your ideal app developer.

How long will it take to design?

Discover exactly how long it takes to design a new app in our post on app design time, and get the complete picture with our overview of app design.

Also discover how long UX audit should take. And to move even faster, discover the benefits of low-code development. Get the full picture of timelines and options for launching a new product, see our guide to how long it takes to create a new app.

Let us Design Your App For You

There’s a lot that goes into designing an app that actually works the first time, and that’s why we at Specno spent years developing the best app design team for usability and user experience – proven to give you better user engagement and retention.

To get your app designed beautifully with an immersive user experience, contact Specno now.
(You’ll get a response immediately.) 

Next Up: App Development

Once you have your app design locked down, your logical next step is to start development. This will be either creating an MVP (if it’s a new app), or applying the new UI if this was an app redesign.

You might also be interested in…

See how much the design of your product it will cost with our feature on app design cost. And for the coding, staging, testing and roll it out, see our guide to  app development cost. Also see how to increase app engagement, using this framework for your user engagement strategy and see how to increase active users.

Check out these great places to get design inspiration, learn how to build user trust through UX design, discover why it’s a good idea to validate your app idea first and get the optimisation insights you need with our look at the 9 critical causes of low app engagement and 7 common causes of low user growth.

Get better user insights by learning to calculate your app engagement rate, and get the full picture of what's required for best-practice app development with our guide to the optimal app development process, 9 vital things you need to know even before you start developing an app, see how long your product will actually take to build in our guide to app development time and see all you need to know about selecting your ideal app developer.

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