How to Design an App: Step by Step Mobile App Design Process

Mobile apps are practically ruling every sphere of our lives. There are already more than 7 million apps across both iOS and Android platforms. But only a handful of apps across every category and niche are successful as a business. Among all the shortcomings that make an app unsuccessful, design glitches happen to be a crucial one. No wonder how to design an app remains a vital consideration for any ambitious app project.

Let's agree that one of the most common reasons users abandon an app is often a user design that makes a negative first impression. How to avoid this terrible shortfall? How to design an app that not just looks perfect but behaves perfectly as well?

Well, here we are going to provide a step-by-step guide explaining how to design an app in detail. Let's start.

How to Design an App In 5 Simple Steps Process

Once the app idea is validated and ready to be pursued further, it is time for the app development company to get into the mobile app design process. Creating a customer-centric app design requires rigorous efforts and adherence to industry-acclaimed best practices.

Let us explain here the essential process of how to design an app.

Understanding the Project Scope

At the beginning of the mobile app design process, you need to be cognizant of the project scope. To develop the best possible app designs, the product strategists should ensure that the designers have a clear understanding of the business objectives and project requirements. This is why the team needs to immerse in the client's business at this stage.

Designing an app requires you to understand the business first by talking to the owners. This will help you involve the clients in the design process so that the concept in its mix of aesthetic elements and business logic becomes transparent.

One of the best practices of how to design an app is to interview the client by asking a few critical questions related to the project goals, target audience, revenue, key app features, and the value proposition. Let's have a quick look at some of these important questions.

  • What business goals does the app project have?
  • How are they planning to generate revenue from the app?
  • Who is going to be the app's target user audience?
  • What common expectations do users give from the said app?
  • What tasks can users carry out through the app?
  • What is the fundamental value proposition that makes it stand apart?
  • What is the key featuring the app offers?

This immersion stage is crucial for your understanding of how to design an app simply because it reveals the app's value position in the scheme of things the business deals with. The app UI/UX design process only needs to follow the guiding points you get from this understanding of the business and scope of the app project.

Carrying Out Audience Research

Following the immersion stage, we have the research stage. The research mainly focuses on understanding the target audience and market competition. At the end of this stage, the app developers and designers will have a solid basis to make data-driven design decisions.

Whether in the Android app or iPhone app designing process, the team at this stage is responsible for understanding the project requirements, analyzing the user behavior, and carrying out a competitive analysis. Understanding user roles, expectations, desired features, and creating mind-maps are essential to understanding users.

Creating User Persona

Creating a user persona is one of the most important aspects of modern mobile app design. A user persona is made based on the data gathered through user research. Among the most acclaimed principles of mobile app design, creating a user persona is crucial because all the research inputs are filtered and crystallized through a user persona.

When creating a user persona, make sure you create a separate persona for each different user role that echoes the needs, goals, and pain points of each type of user. Surveying a lot of users to understand the different attributes will help you create some distinct personas.

Create the User-Journey Map

One of the most common tips about how to design an app offered by most experienced designers is to create user-journey maps. A user journey map helps you clearly understand how people are likely to use an app, whether first or repeated use.

To create a great user journey map, it is vital to understand how the target users are going to behave while navigating through the app. You can understand this better by taking into consideration all possible usage scenarios well in advance. In this respect, it is important to take note of the issues faced by the users, the typical user experiences, and user emotions.

Competition Research

In the mobile app design process, competition research stands as an irreversible step. Analyzing the competition can help you do away with several efforts to finalize common design elements that your project needs. On the other hand, you can fall into the trap of following competitor design and can lose originality.

When explaining how to design an app, most experienced design professionals will advise you to take a middle path by balancing both ways. To design a mobile app, you need to implement the standard design norms that remain sacrosanct as best practices. At the same time, you should not lose your focus on applying a unique approach in your mobile app UI/UX design process.

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Wireframing, Mockups & Prototypes

The wireframing, mockups and prototyping refer to the most elementary three mobile app design process stages. Each refers to an effort towards achieving the final look and feel of the app product. Let's explain them here below.

Wireframing

Wireframes refer to the very initial design blueprint of an app product. In wireframes, the lines and shapes are drawn to create the basic look of each app screen. Wireframes are traditionally designed by using pen and paper. But these days, there are quality design tools for creating wireframes more easily.

Irrespective of how you create the wireframes, they remain low-fidelity designs of the intended app. Usually drawn in black and white lines, they explain the essential app functions and look. Based on how you create wireframes, there are two different types: paper and digital.

  • Paper Wireframes: A complete mobile app design process mostly begins with hand-drawn sketches of the app screens that we call paper wireframes. These low-fidelity designs are normally created by using black markers on white paper. It is also common for remote teams to use digital whiteboards to make the same design output as paper and pen. Paper wireframing involves a very negligible cost while the entire design team can collaborate and achieve better output.
  • Digital Wireframes: Digital wireframes, just like their paper counterparts, use the same simple line design with a design tool. While offering the same basic app design, it gets the precision and accuracy of digital design tools. These design tools typically come loaded with ready-to-use inputs and icons so that designers don't need to waste time drawing every visual detail of the app.

Mockups

Mockups in the mobile app design process refer to an advanced stage compared to the wireframes. Mockups are more precise visual representations of the intended app design as it involves using colors, dummy content, contrast, shadows, icons, and a few other visual details.

If wireframes can be referred to as just preliminary design blueprints, mockups are a more reliable representation of the intended app design. In the process of how to design an app, wireframes are only created for the designers to collaborate internally. In contrast, mockups coming with more precision and details can be shared with the app project's stakeholders, investors, and selected users for validation.

In complete contrast to wireframes, mockups cannot be created by simply pen-on-paper design efforts. They are created by using design tools such as UXPin, Balsamiq, and several others. If you are inquiring about designing an app that ensures high fidelity output at the early design stage, mockups will be the irreplaceable building block. No wonder UX design teams use mockups to provide clients with a solid idea about the look and feel of the final product.

Prototyping

The prototype comes as the most advanced stage of the mobile app UI/UX design process. It represents a sample design of the final app product, and the UX team uses it for testing before launching the app in the respective stores.

Normally, by adding functionalities upon a wireframe or mockup, prototypes are created. For instance, your mockup has the hamburger menu option designed. Now, as soon as you make it clickable as a navigation destination, the design becomes a prototype. Creating a prototype is crucial for any app project that most of the best practices to design an app relate to prototyping challenges.

Prototypes are mainly of two different types, such as High-Fidelity Prototypes and Low-Fidelity Prototypes. Let's briefly explain them.

  • Low-Fidelity Prototypes: These prototypes incorporate limited functions on the digital wireframes, and they mainly focus on testing the user flows. They play a crucial role in content-rich apps in which creating a smooth information architecture is important for ease of use. In low-fidelity prototypes, only basic click and tap interactions are allowed.
  • High-Fidelity Prototypes: Creating a high-fidelity prototype is the logical next step in the mobile app design after completing the mockup design. In such prototypes, gestures and other advanced interactions are incorporated to simulate the final product so that before releasing the app, it can be tested to fix usability issues. High-fidelity prototypes are created by using advanced design tools capable of using data and different interactions.

Many app designers do not follow the linear progression from wireframes to mockups to prototyping; the principles of mobile app designs always prescribe adhering to all three stages.

An ideal mobile app design process does not undermine these three stages and involves all of them to shape the final app product. While wireframes help create the basic design structure, mockup brings more fidelity to the design by simulating the final intended design with more accuracy. Finally, the prototype invokes the functional and interactive elements to test the final app user experience.

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Difference Between iOS & Android Designing an App

When you inquire about how to design an app targeting multiple platforms, the most important thing is to adhere to platform-specific design principles and guidelines of iOS and Android. While for iOS app designing, you need to adhere to Apple's Flat/Human interface design, for Android app designing, you need to comply with the material design principle of Google.

Let's explain here briefly the differences between these two design principles.

Designing an App Navigation

Concerning navigation, there are significant differences between these two design principles. In the case of an Android app design, either the drawer menu or just a back button appears on the top left. The search icon on Android generally appears on the top right. In the case of iOS app designing, the previous tab name always appears on the top left corner, followed by the current tab in the middle and an "Edit" or "Done" button on the top right.

Designing an App Buttons

A key difference between iOS and android design refers to the styles of the buttons. While iOS apps by adhering to the flat design principle, support the lower case, the Android app design, by following the Material Design principle, provides so inherently they support uppercase, and the buttons appear with shadow.

Designing an App Icons and Resolution

There are considerable differences regarding the appearance of the app icons on iOS and Android platforms.

iOS icons appear square with rounded corners. Moreover, images in iOS icons have no transparency and appear with a basic background. The design principle also discourages the redundancy of images, words, and UI elements.

Android icons, in contrast, support background transparency, and Android icons encourage using any icon shape befitting to the background.

Designing an App Typography

Apple has always been simple in the use of fonts. iOS now uses San Francisco font, which is more mobile device friendly both in terms of solace and visual clarity,
Android, on the other hand, always uses Roboto as its official typeface. As for the size and establishing hierarchy, iOS mainly uses Bold fonts, while Android uses a more significant share of white space to ensure clarity.

Designing an App Search

iOS uses two different types of search options, such as prominent and hidden. Besides the usual upper tab search option, users may also have to drag the screen towards the bottom to see the search bar appear.

In Android, the search bars always show up in their usual position on the upper tab. For smaller screens, it is important to provide a search function with the usual search icon that can be clicked to type on the search field.

Designing an App CTA

As for the call to action (CTA) button design, Android always uses the floating action button for primary CTAs. In contrast, the primary CTA buttons of the iOS platform most of the time appear on the top right.

Thumb-friendly design is the standard norm for CTA design across iOS and Android platforms. Maintaining enough white space for easier tap target and proper contrast for easy discoverability also plays an essential role in CTA design in both iOS, Android.

Designing an App Actionable Menu

Actionable menu options that appear contextually to help users take action for the content of the phone device involve several design considerations. In the case of iOS action, menus can be triggered by any button. The menu slides typically upwards from the bottom. As and when this menu is shown, the background gets blurred.

In the case of Android apps, the action menus appear with a three-dot icon displayed generally on the right side of the content. The menu appears within a small popular box.

Designing an App Cards

Cards allow the users to make various content collections such as images, movies, text, etc. Cards in the case of iOS come with no shadow, full width, and zero round corners. In contrast, in the case of Android, the cards come with fully loaded design elements such as round corners, shadows, and gutter.

Designing an App Scrolling

As for content scrolling, the Navigation Bar of the iOS screen continues to shrink in width while the bottom Toolbar disappears during scrolling. Despite this rule, developers of iOS apps can introduce different types of app behavior at the time of scrolling. In contrast, the Toolbar never disappears during scrolling, and the navigation bar remains as it is.

Designing an App Alerts

The alerts in the Android platform appear in a flat button design. The alert buttons of Android are thoroughly text-based to ensure optimum ease of understanding. In the case of iOS, alerts are shown with sentences or title cases either at the center or just at the bottom of the popup message.

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Mobile App Designing Tools to use in UI/UX Design Process

Now that you have a fair idea about how to design an app for different OS platforms, it is also important to take note of some well-acclaimed design tools that play a crucial role in shaping the look and feel of apps.

Here we briefly explain some of these mobile app design tools.

Sketch

The sketch is a widely acclaimed design tool used mainly by app designers for fast wireframing and high-fidelity prototyping. It has a small memory footprint and allows creating design with simple actions, as in Adobe Photoshop. The only downside of this tool is that it only comes with a Mac-only version.

Adobe Experience Design (XD)

Adobe XD supports all PC platforms and offers pretty much everything that high fidelity prototyping requires. The big incentives of using this tool are fast-paced performance and exceptional ease of use.

Axure RP

It is a robust and comprehensive app design tool that many professional app designers prefer. It offers every design tool to create and finish the entire mobile app design process from start to finish. Besides wireframing, mockup, and prototyping, the same tool can also be used for creating user personas, user journeys, flowcharts, idea boards, etc.

Marvel

If you are interested in a design tool that helps in team collaboration besides its core jobs, you can consider Marvel. The tool is also known for its unique ability to synchronize the designs created by other tools like Sketch or Adobe XD. It orchestrates the design, prototyping, and collaboration in a well-defined manner.

Proto.io

This is a design tool that comes with a robust set of ready to use prototype templates. It can be a great design tool if you want to try templates for faster prototyping without any coding knowledge. It comes with a browser-based prototyping interface and can synchronize with designs and visual elements across third-party apps like Dropbox, Google Drive, and Google Material Design library.

Origami Studio

Origami Studio comes as a standalone UI design tool from designers on Facebook. Leading apps like Instagram and Facebook Messenger have been used to offer a rich set of design features and functionalities for the modern mobile app design process. The tool allows incorporating design sketches from other tools like Sketch and previewing the prototypes. You can also record a prototype and send it to the client for quick validation by using the tool.

Balsamiq

Balsamiq is a tool that is only capable of creating high-quality wireframes effortlessly. Unlike other tools in this list, it may not be rich enough to do everything for you in the mobile app UI/UX design process, but it does best what it is known to deliver. Balsamiq offers unparalleled output in turning your sketches into smooth wireframes.

FramerJS

FramerJS is a robust, flexible, and features rich mobile app design tool with several unique attributes. Apart from coding with the tool, the designers can use the inbuilt visual editing tool to generate auto- the required code for the backend automatically. This automatically generated code can further be reused if the app developers or designers want to involve with coding further. For using the tool, you need to rake some training which is offered for free. With this tool, your imagination is the only limit for the design.

UXPin

Do you want to make an excellent design with the least coding efforts? In that case, UXPin comes as the ideal tool for your purpose. This comes basically as a design tool with drag and drops design functions to create high-quality, reliable wireframes and prototypes. The tool also allows creating the design sketches elsewhere in Sketch or Adobe XD and incorporating them into the UXPin. It is a feature-rich and robust tool to take care of all three design requirements, namely wireframing, mockups, and prototyping.

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Factors that Affect Mobile App Designing Cost

Do you want to know how to develop an app from scratch and create a perfect mobile app design? Well, besides knowing the steps of design and development, you also need to consider the cost of development. As we have explained the mobile app design process in detail above, let us look at the critical cost factors for an app project.

Business Model

The budget of the app primarily depends upon how you are figuring out the revenue generated from the app project. The more complicated a business model will be and the more technical challenges it needs to face, the bigger the development time and budget.

For example, apps with a customer service model may need external APIs involving higher costs. On the other hand, an app for internal operation needs limited features and UX attributes resulting in lesser development time and cost.

Required Technology Stack & Platform

Based upon the audience research and technology stack an app project needs to choose a platform. An app can decide to release only on Android or iOS or simultaneously on both platforms. You can decide to build two separate native apps for iOS and Android or build one hybrid app for all platforms or build a cross-platform app with a native UI layer for a better user experience.

Native development involving two separate projects is expensive. Hybrid apps can reduce development costs but make you compromise on the app user experience. Cross-platform apps offer a balanced approach in between these two with maximum code reusability and a platform-specific UI layer. You can just hire a team of React Native or Flutter developers to build a cross-platform app that runs on iOS and Android while offering a native user experience.

Hiring Developers

Based on the required skills, technology stack, and target platforms, you need to hire an experienced development team. You can outsource the project to an accomplished mobile app development company or can hire a team of in-house app developers to build a perfect app from the ground up. You can also hire freelance developers at a lesser budget if you are okay with the involving concerns and risks.

App Features and UI Design

Another key factor influencing the cost of app development is the choice of features and UI design elements. To reduce the initial development cost, it would always be wise to embrace the incremental MVP development approach. You can just introduce the elementary features that define the core app and add more features through subsequent updates.

This will help you to handle the development cost better. As for UI design, the core design elements should remain constant, and you can only add design elements through future updates as the feedback arrives.

App Hosting

Since performance is an uncompromising aspect of any successful app project, a powerful hosting solution is a must for the app project. The cost of hosting substantially increases with the need for higher bandwidth real-time data transfer needs and value-added features. The security features are also crucial for powerful app performance.

Updates and Maintenance

Mobile apps need continuous maintenance and need to be updated every once in a while. Updates are important for maintaining app performance and security. Adding advanced features and scaling up capacity through app updates will involve increased maintenance costs.

Handing the Design Over to the Development Team

The design handover to the development team is another crucial requirement that involves excellent collaboration between the developers and the designers. The smooth handing over of design to the development team is regarded as one of the key principles of mobile app design followed by most successful app projects.

For making this handing over smooth and frictionless, it would be wise to consider the following steps:

  • Make sure both developers and designers stay in communication with clients right from the beginning.
  • When creating a design plan, seek developers' help regarding how design attributes can be shaped to app features.
  • Keeping developers well informed about the fundamental design ideas and attributes so that code adjustments can easily be made in case of any UX issues.

Conclusion

So, we have almost explained everything you want to know about how to design an app successfully. Remember that user-centric design principle is the key to successful app UI/UX design. How well you can incorporate users' perspectives into design through user research, wireframing, prototyping, and design testing is decisive to achieving design excellence.

Achieving excellence in UI/UX design also depends upon the experience and design skills of your team. Make sure the design team is well versed with modern design trends and norms. You also need to have an incremental design plan ready to make small additions and alterations through subsequent updates based on user feedback.

Want to Make an App for Your Business?

Want to validate your app idea? Want to get a free consultation from an expert?

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Written by
CEO
Juned Ghachi is the CEO of IndianAppDevelopers, a professional mobile app development company in India for full-cycle mobility solutions. Having 10+ years of experience in the digital marketing field, he excels at offering the best technical advice to clients.

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