Four Keys to Eye-Popping App Design

By Greg Harron | February 22, 2016

With Great Resolution Comes Great Responsibility

Today’s technology gives us access to devices with extremely high resolution and amazing display capabilities – but not all devices (and all users) are created equally. And as with any comic book superhero, this great power can be used for good or for not-so-good. In other words, with great resolution comes great responsibility. To avoid going to the dark side, do not get caught in these high-res pitfalls.

Avoid the Squeeze Play

When designing for high-res displays there may be a desire to push the limits of size and spacing of interactive elements, squeezing more and more functionality into a single screen. Fingers are not as precise as mouse-based cursor inputs, so don’t get carried away here or your users may struggle. Users may attempt to tap on what they think is a touch control, but if they miss a too-tiny touch zone they may think that it is not actually a control after all. End result: user exits stage left frustrated and confused. When considering the appropriate size of touch zones for interactive elements (and spacing between elements) think about who will be using the app. For example, if you are designing an app for young children, their finger size is much smaller; however, their manual dexterity and fine motor skills may not be fully developed, therefore requiring a larger target zone for tapping.

Just Because You Can, Doesn’t Mean You Should

Small font size and extremely fine detail may be possible on high resolution displays but may interfere with ease of use. Just because your device can graphically support a clear rendering of a 4-point font does not mean you should take advantage of that capability. The size of text, level of graphic detail, and related color choices should fit the unique needs of your app audience. Again, it’s really important here to consider who will be using your apps. If you are designing a dating app for seniors, the visual acuity and color perception of your users is going to be much different than an app targeting high school baseball players.

Aim to add fine graphic details and extra text only when it buys its way in to the app by adding value. Does the extra detail aid in the users’ understanding of an icon, make navigation clearer, or reduce scan time? If so, congrats! You’ve made the team!

Prevent Brain Freeze

We all know about brain freeze, right? Eating too much ice cream way too fast – brain freeze!  Well, brain freeze can also occur when you’re hit with too much information too quickly. With high-res displays, avoid the urge to overwhelm the user with too much information all at once just because it is easier to fit more content on to a single screen. The thinking may go something like this: More Info on One Screen = Fewer Screens = Better Experience. However, going this route may actually have the opposite effect, making the user’s experience less efficient and less enjoyable by bogging down the user on a content-heavy screen that they simply may not tolerate. Again, the end result is user exiting stage left to find the next app on the list.

Establish early in the design process the specific tasks that will be accomplished in the app, as well as the associated information required for the user to successfully accomplish these tasks. 

As you are designing the app, walk through mockups screen-by-screen to ensure you are providing the right level of information at the right time for your users. Allow them to effectively complete the desired tasks without overwhelming them. Whenever possible, simplify the experience to guide the user in a clear, intuitive manner that makes them want to keep exploring. An extra screen or two may be okay if you are simplifying each interaction and reducing the cognitive burden of the user throughout the experience.

Honey, I Shrunk the Icons

When developing your app you want to establish a good sense of the range of devices on which it will likely be used, and prepare your design accordingly. Make sure that your app display does not get lost in translation when being rendered on a lower resolution device – not everyone is on a Retina display yet. Device canvases vary greatly between high and low resolutions and between mobile phone and tablet platforms. Make sure you are able to appropriately scale your design for the full range of devices you expect to be used, so that you do not alienate any segments of your market.

If you want your app to stand out in the vast wilderness of the app store, take an extra second to consider both the available display capabilities and your users’ unique capabilities and limitations. There are a lot of choices available in the app store so please design responsibly when going high res!

Thinking about a new mobile app for your business? We can help. Learn more about our mobile app development team or contact us with any questions you may have about the app design and development process.