Designing an app for your users

5 tips for designing an app people will want to use

It doesn’t matter if you are a UX designer yourself or are hiring someone else to do it for you, whether you are designing an app from scratch or updating something that already exists, you will always come up against the same problem; people hate change.

So how do you make sure that you are designing an app that people will actually want to use? Keeping these UX principles in mind as your design progresses should ensure that your end product is useful, usable and possibly even delightful to use.

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1. Don’t guess, observe

Always remember that you are not your users. Even if you have personal experience of the process you are designing for, the mere fact that you have branched off into designing an app means that you are outside the norm. You aren’t a good example of a user.

Wherever possible, spend some time watching your target users doing their jobs however they normally do it. Watch how they complete their tasks and note down any problems they encounter. If that isn’t possible, try to interview real users in person or on a call to get real evidence of their pains and frustrations with the current system. Group activities like workshops can also be very useful for nailing down complicated processes, filling in personas and getting everyone to air their grievances.  Once you have all this information, you will be much better placed to make your users’ lives easier with your design.

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2. Test early and often

With application design, it can be very easy to forge ahead; boldly breaking new design ground and confident that you are making the Best Thing Ever™, only to have your design torn apart the first time you show it to the stakeholders and having to start from scratch.

To avoid wasting time and effort, nothing beats actual feedback for keeping you on the right track. You should show your designs to real users as soon as possible in the process, even if that just means paper prototypes or basic wireframes. There are also tools such as InVision to help you create an interactive simulation of your app without writing a single line of code. Ask users to talk you through what they can see and what they expect from the elements on the page. Do they immediately get confused or lost? Is something missing? The earlier you know, the easier it is to fix.

3. Don’t get caught up in the details

UX design is not visual design, although the two are closely related. If your users don’t like the giraffe character on the help menu, you may break some illustrator’s heart, but you won’t need to tear your code apart to change it. However, if your users are forced to enter the same address in three different locations that are all five clicks apart, that will be hard to fix further down the line.

Focus on making sure that your application flows well, and that the flow matches what your users want to do. You can achieve this with nothing more than simple wireframes if necessary. However, don’t be a slave to expectations. Humans are creatures of habit; they will often insist on doing things how they have always been done, even if there is a better option available. Designing an app is a delicate balance, if you can see the better way, push back against attempts to stick with tradition.

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4. Don’t get attached

Time for a quick story. In the early days of chemistry, people thought that fire was something solid and physical; a tangible substance that could be studied just like all these new-fangled elements that were popping up everywhere. They called this substance phlogiston. There is a reason you won’t find it on the periodic table. As science progressed, and more experiments were done, some clung desperately to the idea of phlogiston, giving it an ever-increasing list of bizarre properties to explain why there was no scientific evidence for its existence.

Do not let your design be phlogiston. Check with your users and if something is not working, get rid of it. It’s better to start again from what you now know to be true rather than work around what you once believed.

5. Embrace uncertainty

Modern software development rarely knows exactly where it’s going before it starts. Technology moves so fast that waiting to be certain will see you left behind.

Plot out a small piece of the design and get it out into the real world as soon as you can; you can change course as you get feedback. This will avoid spending effort on something that your users have suddenly realised they don’t need. You should also be prepared to re-assess work that was once perfectly fine. As your product grows, you are likely to add more and more features; check your menus. Are they still clear and easy to navigate? Do all of your pages link together as you would expect? If things start to get unwieldy, it might be better to change now rather than spend effort forcing it to keep working.


Good UX design should be practically invisible. If you think of applications that you like to use, they are probably doing all sorts of things in the background to make sure that you don’t have to spend mental power on anything other than the task in hand. If you do it right, people might not be sure that you’ve done anything at all, but they will be using your app.

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Lucy Lock

View posts by Lucy Lock
UX Analyst Lucy owns the process for devising and documenting the detail of our customer projects. Working as part of the UX design team, she supports the visual designs with all that the developers need to fully understand the functionality of the application.