What App Design Looks Like in 2016

Design thinking has come of age. People are now more aware of look and feel than ever. Great design is becoming an expectation, and those who provide that in their products and services have a competitive advantage. The same is true with apps specifically.

Today’s designers focus on more than just aesthetics and function. They are now considering the emotions people feel when interacting with their product, and how those emotions drive them to take one action over another. The value we see in design is now placed on tackling more complex problems, like the promise of a certain feeling rather than only utility.

This new way of looking at design is a perspective that has believed in for years. It mirrors the changes we’ve seen and experienced as a forward-thinking creative app agency. App design, in particular, has transformed immensely since we started building apps. Here’s how we see this new way of design thinking impacting app design and the app industry as a whole.

The Establishment of Apps in our Daily Life

Apps are helping change the way the general public thinks of design as a whole. Whether it’s Google Maps, Instagram, Uber, Snapchat, or any number of comparable apps, these companies or services are experienced almost entirely through their apps. There’s an expectation that they “just work” when someone pulls out their device. People have come to expect, if not demand, that their apps be simple to use, always work, beautiful, and entertaining.

Design for apps also involves more than smartphones and tablets. Apps are in cars, watches, TVs, just about everywhere. And apps are for everyone. The demographics of app users are widening to include more of the public. Teenagers, especially, rely heavily on apps for their daily lives. A Business Insider study revealed that today’s teens are getting smartphones at around 11 years of age and are spending about six hours a day on their phones with much of that time spent in apps. Teenagers are turning to apps with simple, focused UI like ooVoo, Snapchat, and WhatsApp to connect with others.

Apps are About Personalization and Human Emotion

Apps are personal. They go beyond function. It’s more than just “there’s an app for that” and the overwhelming number of alternatives in the app stores. Users personalize their devices, deciding what to download onto them, and even how to arrange the order of the apps on their home screens. They talk to Alexa, ask questions of Siri, and get highly personalized information from Google Now. So it should come as little surprise that app design, like the maturation of design in general, is about appealing to user emotions.

It’s the difference between buying a Lexus to get “safe and comfortable transportation in a well-designed high-performance vehicle” to buying the same car to “feel pampered, luxurious, and affluent.”

– DESIGN THINKING COMES OF AGE

The apps users turn to are an extension of who they are. Those apps represent their idea of their own digital extension or lifestyle. Take Uber’s rebranding as an example. We took Uber’s change from a “U” to colorful geometry (the shape of which depends on whether the user is a rider or driver) personally because we consider these brands and products our own. They’re part of our identity. The apps we choose are used to make a statement about who we are and what we value.

We also see this in the types of digital personas and communities users choose to portray and interact with based on the types of apps they download and use. More people are looking to apps as a way to connect with others. The younger generation is especially attuned to an app’s presentation, look, feel, and most importantly, its ability to connect them with others. These separate needs, the ability to form an identity and connect with others, might be why the average teen doesn’t use Facebook because they don’t feel at home in the community — “I can’t be myself on it because my parents and my friends’ parents are my Facebook friends” (as one 16-year-old said) — but the average teen does use Facebook Messenger.

Businesses See Apps Increasing Engagement

As great app design helps further humanize design, businesses are increasingly relying on apps to create more emotional connection and engagement with their consumers. They are beginning to use well-designed apps to bridge the gap between utility and human connection.

The Starbucks app is a good example of how businesses are marrying company strategy with the emotion and connection aspects that make up app design. This app reflects the Starbucks brand that consumers are attached to and use in part to define their lifestyle. Users are attracted to Starbucks’ presentation, quality, and the branding of Starbucks as a community hub and social spot. Their app encourages users to purchase more through drink customization, simple purchase processing, and gifting options.

Their approach is working. Starbucks makes the case for its app with its own statistics. The company’s “mobile payments account for 20% of all in-store transactions in the U.S., more than double the figure Starbucks reported two years ago,” according to a Fortune article.

To achieve great design, you need great business thinking/doing — to *effectively invest* in design — and you need great engineering — to achieve unflagging performance.

– DESIGN IN TECH REPORT 2015

More companies are taking their business strategy to apps. App design to businesses today is about how to communicate their brands and keep their brands consistent across new platforms. It’s about taking advantage of different screen sizes, users, contexts, and delights to translate those concerns into one emotional message that ties in with the experience a user gets when they visit a store. It’s also about providing a genuine feeling of human connection if there’s no store to visit.

Context is Key for a Winning App Experience

Now there is more opportunity to provide valuable connection at critical moments of product and service experiences. New mediums like wearables are more accessible. App experiences continue to expand from smartphones and tablets to watches, TVs, and cars. For example, Starwood Preferred Guests use the hotel’s Apple Watch app to unlock their hotel room doors. Stores like Macy’s are testing location-based sales using beacon technology. Not only are consumers more open to these sorts of experiences, but there are more opportunities for apps to reach consumers in ways that are more relevant to them.

FamilySignal even allows families to establish their own contextual alerts. With FamilySignal, for example, parents can create customized geofences that send notifications when children enter or leave school, home, or other locations. This app allows family members to keep track of each other. Children can tap a button to immediately send their location to a parent or an alert to authorities, if need be. This location-based beacon service allows families to determine what is important to them and use the app accordingly.

App Design is Becoming Highly Specialized

With all of this backdrop—and it wasn’t always the case—app design has become much more complex and involved. We even consider app design its own discipline. These days we have an enormous number of considerations to think about when designing even a very basic app. We have to contend with all of the different platforms, mediums, and experiences, Human Interface Guidelines from Apple, Material Design from Google, special concerns for wearables, voice capabilities, not to mention all the different guidelines for screen size densities and icon sizes. App design is no longer something anyone can just jump into even if you design for another medium or industry.

Thankfully with the increasing complexity of app design we’ve seen new tools emerge that tackle the specific needs of app designers. Companies are building entire businesses around better app design as well as enabling designers and product people to create better products. Tools like Sketch, a design program created to address the specific needs of UI designers, are changing the way app designers approach the design process. Prototyping tools like Flinto and Principle, as well as Marvel and InVision are removing the technical barriers of entry for animations and interactions and empowering designers to create connecting experiences in new ways. Another tool changing the way app designers approach their work, Zeplin, simplifies the handover to developers, making sure the vision and life of a design is translated correctly into code.

In a way these new tools are helping give as-of-yet under-recognized concerns in app design a foothold with designers. Accessibility, in particular, has moved beyond the buzzword it was over the past couple of years with new color and contrast tests like Color Safe. These tools are helping app designers realize that accessibility, especially for users with sight disabilities, is no longer an afterthought.

Concluding Note

In general, the gap between poorly designed products and well-designed products is shrinking. There will always be a large gap between great design and “good” design, but in general the bucket of “good” products is getting bigger. In the age when there’s almost always more than one way of creating an app, how your app looks, feels, how you speak and appeal to your audience is one of the key factors that sets you apart.

 

BY: W RHODES

Why Your App Needs a Landing Page

Marketing your app starts long before you try to launch it. From pre-launch marketing activities to the app’s arrival in app stores, successful app marketing is about continuing to build excitement.

At the center of that marketing is your landing page or app-focused website. This site will evolve based on where your app is in its development lifecycle. For those of you debating whether your app needs a landing page, we’ve put together why a landing page is integral to building your app’s following before launch, and how each stage of a landing page’s evolution helps position your app for success.

  • A landing page and web presence serves as the hub for all information about your app.
  • It helps in shaping your app’s design identity with its logo, typography, and color palette.
  • Define the story of your app in a sentence to help showcase its purpose and core features.
  • The landing page should evolve with the app’s development. Gradually reveal more.
  • Analyze the hard data on your landing page to refine your marketing messages.
  • Use your landing page and social channels to gather emails for user feedback and beta testers.
  • Interact with users through the landing page to keep the excitement level up after launch.

Start Shaping the Story of Your App

The first stage of your landing page should align with the tail end of your app’s strategic planning phase. As soon as you nail down your app’s concept and start creating its branding materials, you’ll want to purchase a domain name reflective of your app’s name and publish an initial splash page. This page will help legitimize your app and give you a place for potential users to discover you. It will also serve as the main place people can learn about your app ahead of it being in actual app stores.

This basic page is where you start shaping your app’s design identity. Here’s where you show off your app’s brand — it’s typography, color palettes, iconography, and logo. You also should include introductory teaser items and an email sign-up form. Other fields are optional and should only be included based on if they’re important to your app. You might include some high-level information about when you plan to go live, though keep in mind that launch dates should always be considered fluid.

teleportlandingpage

This is Teleport’s initial landing page with a brief description of the app and its inspirational slogan: “Go anywhere.”

Get Feedback for Your App from Beta Testers

The next stage of your app landing page or website is about increasing interest by revealing more about your app and actively reaching out to potential users for app feedback. You can begin to tease out more details about your app’s features, a few screenshots, and additional materials as your app takes form. Consider getting more creative in your promotional content with interactive graphics or short video promos, like the one on musx’s website.

In parallel, you should start building out your social media channels. Your page should include links to every social media channel and other web presences you have for your app. It’s important to connect all these communication channels in one central location so people have a single place to learn all that’s out there about your app. It’s also useful to let, say, your Twitter followers know you have an Instagram account, or to connect your Facebook fans with the other social channels they wouldn’t otherwise encounter. You can even take it one step further by incorporating tools like SumoMe’s social sharing badge to enable users to share your landing page with their own networks.

By this point you should have a number of email addresses courtesy of your social media outreach and email sign-up form. You can then reach out to people to get new perspectives on what is and isn’t working in your app. Through those discussions, you may find new ways to approach problems and features that might not have been accounted for in your planning. This audience outreach is helpful in getting a forecast of how your app will be received once it launches. Some of these users may even be interested in providing more hands-on feedback by using your app itself as part of a formalized beta testing group.

Other feedback comes from analyzing the hard data on your landing page that visitors provide when they interact with your marketing messages. You can test a variety of messages on your landing page and social channels in the weeks leading up to launch to pinpoint the types of marketing material your users prefer. Because you have full control over how and what you display on your landing page, you have more opportunity to see what users will respond to. Google Analytics, SumoMe, and other tools can help analyze how people are using the site. Use this data to identify what resonates with your users before you make a big push for downloads on launch day.

Build Activity for Your App Launch and Beyond

The big reveal of your full app website should coincide with the launch of your app. Once your app goes live you should provide all the details about your app, including support and documentation, pricing plans, a press kit, and a link to download your app in the app stores. You’ll continue to add more information to your site until it eventually includes reviews, user testimonies, more in-depth previews, and links to articles about your app.

Take advantage of the information you gathered through your landing page up to this point. Send out an email blast to everyone who entered their email addresses on your landing page. This email should reflect the messages and features that have resonated best with your beta group in particular. Direct users to download, rate, and review your app in this email. Using tools like LinkTexting, you can even add an option on your landing page for people to opt to receive an SMS link sent directly to their devices to make it easier for them to discover the app. Reach out to any media you’ve cultivated relationships with to let them know the app is live. If they weren’t already aware of the press kit, provide a link to it. The more information you provide, the easier you make it for the press to cover your app’s release.

Discovery outside the app stores is important for your app. By refining your landing page’s search engine optimization, you can increase the number of people who find out about your app, and then direct them to it in app stores. After all, it doesn’t matter how well you’ve executed your app if no one knows how to find it or even that it exists. Maximizing your landing page’s keywords, without flooding the solid, informational content on your site with them, is a powerful way to encourage organic traffic to your landing page and app. Select keywords that your users would search for when trying to find your app, or an app with features like it. You can use Google’s Keyword Planner to help you come up with keyword ideas and Google Analytics to track the resulting traffic.

fs-landing-example
FamilySignal’s landing page allows visitors to text themselves a link to download the app. It also takes advantage of an Intercom chat feature to engage users.

Most importantly, however, keep adding information to your landing page and giving users ways to interact with your app team to keep the excitement level up after your app’s launch. Along with app FAQ and support documentation, we recommend adding team profiles and a blog to make users feel like they can get to know the people behind the app. There are tools like Intercom, which FamilySignal uses on its landing page, to further demonstrate that you’re actively listening to user feedback and intend to address feature recommendations and other suggestions in later app updates. By engaging with users and demonstrating that there’s an active community around your app, you’ll attract more interest and, hopefully, more downloads.

Concluding Note

The landing page is just one part of the holistic approach we use to position apps for success, but it’s a critical one. Without even the most basic landing page, users will struggle to discover your app and won’t have many options to share your app with their own networks. It’s easy for an app to get lost in already overcrowded app stores. What’s more, you’re limited in the ways you can market your app if users do find its app store listing. By creating a landing page and stepping through its evolution, you stand to attract more potential users to your app as well as entice them to download it and stick with it.

BY: W RHODES

You Have an App Idea. What Next?

So you have an idea for a great app but don’t know how to make it a reality. This guide goes through the initial steps in bringing your app idea to fruition, including links to in-depth articles on forming a team, estimating costs, and raising funding for early stage ventures.

Research Your Market

Start by thinking about your app’s placement in app stores. In which categories will your app appear? What kind of competition will you face? What is the thing that will set your app apart from the others? Answering these questions will kick off the first steps to refining your app idea.

One way to research your market is to identify keywords you could use to describe your app. Use these keywords to pick out your top competitors. By checking out your competitors’ listings you can learn what your users may expect from your app. Check out competitor ratings/reviews and play around with their apps to get an idea of where they fall short. Use this research to identify which pain points and problems you can solve for users. Aim to replicate the successes seen by similar apps while offering something more to attract and retain users

Define Your App

You need to nail down the purpose of your app, its targeted users, and how it exists within your company’s existing brand or the image you want to present with your startup.

The questions found in our customer questionnaire could serve as the reasoning behind your app’s overall design as well as detailed elements like: type, color, lines, tone, voice, feeling, harmony, balance, rhythm, emphasis, illustration style, photography, concept of space/area, white space, and more. They serve as a jumping off point for a more detailed discussion about the app’s design

Decide Which Platform to Target

Our general advice is to start with the iOS platform first because of the difference in demographics, cost, and speed to market seen with iOS apps as opposed to Android apps. Generally, iOS users are more affluent and spend more money per app, while iOS apps are often faster to build and less expensive than Android apps.

Android first makes sense if your target audience is squarely focused on Android, especially in developing nations or certain segments of urban environments. It also makes sense when you’re tapping into or customizing an element of Android’s operating system that’s not accessible on iOS, when you may need to select the hardware itself that the app needs to run on, or when you want full control over all hardware and software elements (these two items combined).

Give Your App a Name

Once you have an idea of the basic foundations of your app, as well as who’s going to help you create and ship it, it’s time to decide on an app name. Naming an app—or a business—is not simple task. An app’s name, paired with the icon, is the first interaction a user has with your app. It is your app’s first chance to make the right impression. This guide steps you through the process of brainstorming and choosing a name for your app.

Having a name, a domain name, at least a placeholder landing page, and a logo go a long way to showing that you’re serious about your app. It will help you in later steps, particularly the quest for funding

Estimate How Much Your App Will Cost

The average v1.0 app can cost anywhere between $90,000 to $210,000. That’s with the average 4-6 month-long build time. Keep in mind that complex app features can take longer to build, increasing the overall cost of the app. Apps that are built for a smartphone and tablet, that have a complex user interface, or that require a significant backend can cost anywhere from $250,000 to $1,500,000.

This post breaks down the cost issue and examines the price tag attached to dealing with freelancers, mid-size agencies, and the big boys of app development

Build Your Team

The first step in forming an app team is conducting an inventory of your resources. What skills do you have as a CEO? Do you have a co-founder with technical skills? Building an app requires much more than development. For those of you who are just getting started, your team should reflect the development, design, project management, and marketing skills of a mobile startup. Check out this post to learn what core skills are needed in an app team, where to find potential candidates, and how to evaluate them.

Not too keen on building your own team from scratch? The right approach can vary based on a person’s or company’s background, experience, and the resources at their disposal. This article goes into several reasons contracting an app team might be best for your needs. Sometimes the most cost-effective and smart choice is to contract with a full service app agency to get expert help defining the scope and features of your app, naming, raising funds, everything associated with building a business around an app

Reach Out to Investors for Funding

Early stage ventures should look to investors for funding as it helps companies build features for their apps faster, have more budget for marketing, and generally provides a longer runway to test ideas and find their product to market fit.

Almost any early venture is going to be targeting a seed (or pre-seed) round. A seed stage investment generally means that your company is in the pre-revenue portion of its existence and probably doesn’t have an app. The range of investments do vary because of this “pre-seed” round, but you can expect this type of raise to be anywhere from $200,000 to upwards of $1.5 million. The best way to start conversations with potential investors is to get someone to make an intro for you.

When we work with customers, we do much more than just design and develop their app. From day one we’re thinking about positioning, assisting them with raising venture capital (when applicable), creating app-focused websites, and even populating customer support knowledge bases. There are very few apps that will go on to be successful without a more holistic business approach

Market Your App

Your marketing efforts should start the moment you begin working on your app. Think of your marketing timeline as a crescendo. Your marketing investment starts soft at the beginning, continues to build, and eventually peaks with its arrival in the app stores. Seek out potential customers as early on in the app creation process as possible. These should be real app users who can provide quality feedback and eventually become the champions of your app. Great ways to reach out to customers include Twitter, email and blogging. Click here to read more about what you need to do for a successful pre-launch marketing strategy

Concluding Note

In some cases, a full-service app agency can use their experience to help you nail down the details of your app, identify your place in the market, raise investor funding, and provide further guidance. As you can see, there are a lot of steps to creating an app before development gets underway. The attention given to these steps can determine your and your app’s success in the app stores.

By W.Rhodes

What Makes a Great App?

You’ve seen the lists of “best new apps” and “top apps of the year.” What makes these apps any better than the thousands of others in app stores? What makes an app great? A catchy name and fancy animations help, but real quality comes from how well the app addresses these elements: purpose, audience, stability, and polish.

We polled our team of award-winning product managers, designers and developers and came up with these four criteria for creating a great app.

It Does One Thing Well

A common mistake is to cram too many features into an app. Apps need to do one thing well. Those that focus on a simple concept have more of a chance to succeed.

Take Uber for example. If you remove their focus on black service cars in the early days, Uber was primarily about getting your ride faster. Without that focus, Uber wouldn’t have been nearly as successful as it’s grown. Once Uber nailed that one thing, they earned the right to add on extra features, like fare splitting, to make it the service we recognize today.

Takeway: Start with your core focus, execute it well, and earn the right to focus on additional features

It Knows its Audience

A great app not only understands the one thing that it does well, it understands its audience and is designed for them. For instance the musx is focused on those who want to share and discover new music. While the app may appeal to more casual music listeners, features like tagging a song or mentioning a friend are really geared towards those who believe music is social.

The essence of the idea needs to be unique to its audience. It talks to the specific needs of its users and either offers them something new that they didn’t know they missed or solves a problem that users struggle with on a regular basis. For example, the Destiny app appeals to the obsessive nature of some gamers, allowing them to keep track of their stats and gear on the console game, Destiny. The app serves as a lifeline to players who can’t play the game in that moment. It doesn’t try to overextend by offering any additional access to the game beyond the basics. The app allows players to dote on their characters and check their stats and kill counts during their non-gaming time. It psyches them up to get home and log into Destiny.

Takeaway: Research your audience and focus on meeting their specific needs

It’s Stable and Fast

Think about the main apps that you use every single day. They don’t crash, aren’t slow, and do what you expect them to do. These apps offer experiences like those of default apps put out by Apple and Google — they just work. We take that for granted, but it’s hard to get to that point.

Great apps are also snappy and offer fast response times. Their users can get in and out of the app and do what they mean to do in just a couple of taps or seconds. We’re fans of Marisa Mayer’s rule of thumb to make sure your users can get to anything they want to do in the app with only two taps.

Takeaway: Speed is a feature. Keep your scope tight to ensure your app is both stable and fast

It’s Polished

Polish really helps separate an app. Focusing on the small details can help separate it from other apps and inspire both users and other app creators alike.

Polish can also be done with sound effects, like the classic token-collecting chime in Quest or the pop-like noises that occur when events are created or deleted in an Agenda app.

Takeaway: The details matter. Animations, sound effects, interactions, and other little flourishes bring the app to life and make it impressive

Concluding Note

A great app is focused, intuitive, fast, and a pleasure to use. You should regularly explore apps featured on the app stores and those that receive awards from Apple and Google. By focusing on fulfilling the four criteria above, you’ll have a greater chance at making it on those “top app” lists.

By W.Rhodes

Internet of Things (IoT) next step of Web

The Internet of Things (IoT) is an environment in which objects, animals or people are provided with unique identifiers and the ability to transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction. IoT has evolved from the convergence of wireless technologies, micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) and the Internet. On the other word, a thing, literally everything could be part of the IoT if it had a unique identity, senses and internet connectivity to give accessibility to connect, monitor, control or communicate.
Example of things, in the Internet of Things, can be a person with a heart monitor implant, a farm animal with a bio-chip transponder, an auto-mobile that has built-in sensors to alert the driver when tire pressure is low or any other natural or man-made object that can be assigned an IP address and provided with the ability to transfer data over a network. So far, the Internet of Things has been most closely associated with machine-to-machine (M2M) communication in manufacturing and power, oil and gas utilities. Products built with M2M communication capabilities are often referred to as being smart.
According to Gartner, Inc. (a technology research and advisory corporation), there will be nearly 26 billion devices on the Internet of Things by 2020. Since around half of the population are living in cities, in near future we expecting Mega cities and IoT may assist us to manage the things. Internet of things could be applied in many areas including Media, Environmental monitoring, Infrastructure management, Manufacturing, Energy management, Medical and healthcare systems, Building and home automation, Transportation. IoT also same as any other technology has its pros and cons including privacy, autonomy, control and security which may need to be considered carefully to avoid any mass disruption.

By MJ Ahmadi