User experience is one of the main reasons mobile apps succeed or fail. Most apps present an already-done concept, but because of fabulous design and ease of usability, they take off where other very similar ones fall flat. Others invite users to experience a new, brilliant idea, but the interface makes them too difficult to use. These five design trends focus on user experience to create successful apps.
Screen size pairs with usability to engender minimalism as a very prominent trend in app design. Instead of over-the-top graphics and almost unreadable serif fonts, app design has moved toward the simplistic. Simple menus, small amounts of text, and cleverly used white space. Minimalism manifests in multiple ways. Some apps use nearly monochromatic color schemes. Others employ a flat design (rather than a bubble effect, drop shadows, and other 3D simulations) to increase visual appeal. Many apps now blur their background images to draw focus to the content.
Hand-in-hand with minimalism is color. Rather than taking up text space by explaining certain functions, apps now use color to trigger certain associations in users’ minds. News apps, like USA Today, use color to categorize news, helping readers classify the stories without having to read extra content. Mail apps use color, too. Red usually signifies deleting or archiving. Calendar apps use color to sort the items for a given day, assigning different colors to each type of entry. This seems like a simple design trick, but it helps immensely with app usability because the different colors allow the brain to begin organizing before you read a single word.
Many apps have now incorporated a side menu that appears when you click on a certain icon. Instead of taking users to a new page, these menus simply flow on top of the existing open content, and are easy to close. This makes navigating complicated apps with lots of content, like Facebook, much easier. App designers are taking it a step further, by creating movable navigation like in the app Vu, or incorporating several main pages users can transition between with a swipe left or right. The main point here is heightening the visual aspect of the app’s usability without crippling functionality.
Gone are the days when you need to swipe just so to navigate within apps. App designers are concentrating on incorporating smooth, natural user movements into app navigation. From swiping screens into thumbnails to the tap and hold movement, the physical use of apps is becoming more intuitive. Certain drawing apps, like Paper by FiftyThree, work beautifully on the ipad air‘s large screen because of the amount of time the designers spent integrating the movements artists make when drawing and painting. The physical usage of an app is also very important in games, since a fast reaction time and a wide range of potential user movements make time-sensitive games easier to play.
Some interfaces need to incorporate and make accessible too much data for a truly minimalistic design. That’s where design depth and layering comes in. Perhaps it’s in the image of a curled up page corner at the bottom right of the screen. Or, a translucent notification, menu, or media control button screen appearing atop the opened page, without totally obscuring it. Love it or hate it, parallax and the strange 3D style movement it brings, is part of this design trend as well. Parallax brings a new aspect to depth far beyond drop shadows and design quirks, because of the complexity of the depth simulation. It isn’t widely used currently, but it holds a lot of promise for apps and games that require movement within virtual 3D space.
Though these trends won’t all show up together in the same app, you’re very likely to find at least one (or happy combinations, like color and minimalism) in the next app you download. These trends help app design evolve and change, and inspire designers to innovate. Some of them, especially in the realm of navigation and layering, will continue to change drastically with every new operating system.