Tech Trends

9 Donts for Creating a Mobile App

When we wrote our “Dos” article some time ago, we noted that naturally there would need to be a “Donts” piece to complement it, and this article is the result.  Some of these “donts” are the corresponding opposites of advice we gave in the “dos” article, but others are lessons picked up from simply studying the many deceased mobile apps strewn by the side of the digital road.

Overwhelm the user with content or features

Once a user becomes more familiar with your app and happy with its performance, then it makes sense to add more content and features.  Even then, you should make sure you are asking your most active users if the things you would like to add are features they would actually use.  You never want to let the ego of the development team guide these additions, but to ask those who are actually using the app day in and day out.  Early on, focus on the mission of getting your users to download and actually use the app for the first time.

Forget about the power of design

People want their apps to consistently work (UX), above all, but they also display a strong attachment to design (UI).  Just as Apple began an entirely new school of architectural design in retail thanks to their thoughtful (but minimalist) store layouts, so too apps that deliver a functional experience with design-forward features that can surprise and delight have the potential to catch on much faster.  Instagram continues to be a leader in this space,  allowing its users to interact quickly and intuitively, all within a fairly constrained number of features.  Less is very often more.

Forget about fat fingers

With the dawn of tablets, you are no longer simply designing for phones, and even the phones have split into those with bigger screens and smaller screens.  Additionally, users can customize (depending on the OS) how text appears to them, so it’s important to keep in mind not just the size of buttons and widgets within your app, but functionality as well.  It’s puzzling that some development teams think that having a “delete” button right next to a “save” button is a good idea.

Forget analytics

What gets measured gets managed (and improved) and there are four key metrics your development team should always be aware of at any given time:

  • Average Daily Users – remember here that the real number you care about is your regular active users, and have you found a way to communicate with them and drive their loyalty and usage up?
  • Average Session Length – this is the amount of time a user actively uses your app to accomplish something, from start to finish.  How closely is that time matching up with your desires and expectations?
  • Retention – how many users are still using the app after downloading and using it once?  That number is so much more valuable than the number of downloads.
  • Lifetime Value – remember to begin with the end in mind.  If you don’t know how much revenue you can derive from a user over a period of time, you can’t properly budget how to acquire them (acquisition cost).

Speaking of acquisition, that’s another metric you should be tracking – how many downloads come from a specific source.  Everyone, from marketing to accounting to development, will benefit from that information.

Forget about security and privacy

Despite the actions of users, who consistently demonstrate by their actions that they don’t really care about privacy, the legal (and financial) ramifications of a breach of data are what matters to you as a company.  Don’t shortcut this and don’t let it fall victim to the “yeah yeah yeah” chorus (it will be tempting, understandably!).  Treat your users’ data with even more care and thoughtfulness than your own.

Be complex

As we’ve said before, the app universe has dramatically decreased the amount of patience that users have for something that doesn’t work or is too complicated.  People laughed at Steve Jobs when he released an iPhone without a user manual, but the paradigm has so shifted that people would laugh at an instruction manual issued with pretty much anything digital these days.  If it’s not intuitive, try harder.  If it’s complex, simplify.

Be obvious about asking for reviews

This is tough because even beloved apps have a difficult time getting their most rabid fans to write reviews.  This is partially an OS/App Store issue – they haven’t found a way (or haven’t decided to find a way) to allow apps to submit user-generated reviews created outside of the app store interface.  As long as the friction continues to exist in which someone has to leave your app (or remember later) to write a review, it will be difficult to ask users to do so.  The unfortunate problem is that once one app figures out an unusual or unique way to get more reviews, the technique will be copied and very quickly that advantage will vaporize.

Keep incessantly logging customers out

To the security issue above, obviously there needs to be basic security measures in place.  But don’t overlook using the functions of devices to allow customers to shortcut logging in.  Whether it’s a short PIN only used for the app, or leveraging thumb or facial scanning technology, users would rather do anything other than have to remember a username and password among the many that they currently have to retain.  Your users will be annoyed and will remember when you keep logging them out.  Do it often enough, and they’ll quit in frustration (and tell their friends).

Shortcut full integration

It’s understandable that early in the development process certain functions will more easily flow if sent to mobile web pages rather than integrated menus or pages in an app.  But users are not fooled.  More than ever, they see a performance and/or visual cue that tells them they have left the app and are in a mobile web experience, and they consistently react poorly.  It’s obviously more work to have a fully app-exclusive experience, but the users will notice, appreciate, and tell others.


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Stephen writes about startups, hiring and career issues for VocaWorks.