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12 must-know mobile app UX design best practices

Whether or not you’re in the field of UX design, you know that user experience with an app is about more than just the visual components. How you’re able to navigate through the app and achieve what you want can be the difference between whether you stay or move on to a competitor’s app.

As technology advances, the options available to us in the world of mobile apps continue to grow, meaning if your solution doesn’t perform well, your company’s bottom line is at risk.

It’s tough to keep up with UX research and the constant advances and updates in mobile UX app design, so to help you in your quest to understand what’s new, what’s important, and what’s both, we’ve compiled this list of 12 must-know mobile app UX design best practices.

Even if you’re a UX design pro, you’ll find helpful takeaways to improve your product’s user experience.

Key takeaways

  • First impressions matter

  • Poor performance is the enemy (90% of users have stopped using an app due to poor performance)

  • UX affects your bottom line

What is mobile app UX design?

Mobile app UX design is the process of designing the user interface (UI) and overall experience for a mobile application. But this high-level definition barely scratches the surface of the growing list of considerations and technology that go into designing mobile apps.

The focus of mobile app UX design should be to create a seamless, intuitive and successful interaction for users of smartphones and tablets of various sizes.

One of the most significant challenges in mobile UX design is understanding user frustration. A few statistics will help drive this point home:

Those are some startling numbers. This article will help you to break out of the 55% in that last statistic.

Why mobile UX design is essential

While the data above is compelling, the importance of UX design goes beyond statistics. Putting yourself in the shoes of the user will always deliver the best insights.

Let’s think about road trip navigation, another user experience with which most of us have had both great—and terrible—user experiences. Consumer GPS navigation systems have come a LONG way from their early days—remember the TomTom, Garmin or even Magellan?

Those standalone devices were a step up from having to read your printed Mapquest instructions while navigating dark city streets. But they were clunky to use, not intuitive, and despite frequent necessary updates, they were still known for prompting us to drive over bridges closed for construction.

Today’s navigation systems have come a long way thanks to UX design improvements. Most of us use apps we can download instantly to our phones or that come built into our vehicles. They’re voice-driven, provide real-time directions based on current traffic conditions, update automatically, anticipate our needs (gas stations nearby!), minimize distractions and speak to us in voices from Christina Aguilera to Roger Federer to Zen Surfer. All thanks to UX improvements made by design teams.

Good mobile app UX design involves getting inside the user's brain and anticipating their actions—and reactions—to what they’re experiencing. Is the interface pleasing and the text easy to read? Are the headings clear and the content logical? Is it easy and intuitive to navigate to the information you need and complete what you’re there for?

If the answer to these or a host of other questions is NO, then you may have a problem. Remember those 90% of users who bailed on an app because of a poor user experience? What do you think they did next?

Yeah, they likely ended up on your competitor’s app.

Mobile UX design best practices to improve app user experience

Here are the 12 mobile app best practices to give your visitors an exceptional experience and keep them engaged to complete the actions you want them to.

1. Implement a user-centered design

In UX design, a deep understanding of your users should be your true north.

UX research involves understanding who your users are, why they downloaded your app, how they navigate through it and what drives them to complete the actions you want them to. But even more telling is understanding the abandoners. Where did their journey end and why did they leave? You want to get inside their brains.

Easier said than done? Yes. However, numerous tools and techniques exist to help product teams discover user needs, goals and pain points so they can build products in a systematic, empathetic way.

User journeys and personas are a powerful combination in understanding what’s working and not working in your customer’s experience with your product.

The user journey is the path a person follows during their discovery of a product, service or brand as they learn about it, consider its value and make a decision whether to purchase. Where do they start, what does their navigation look like, and where—and why—do they leave?

Personas are profiles of fictional people who represent your typical users. The process of creating these detailed descriptions of your ideal customers helps you see the product through their eyes and will help you understand why they do what they do along their user journey so you can anticipate their wants and needs. This is crucial information for creating an intuitive and engaging user experience.

The information you can gain from creating personas and then going through the user journey with the mindset of those people will help you understand why they may be dropping off where they do or what areas cause problems. You can then remove the friction from those journeys.

Creating user journeys and personas are first steps to human-centered mobile UX design, an approach that focuses on improving your product and user journey to make them more human-centered, i.e., putting your customer’s needs first when designing your products and services.

So, what are some great examples of great user-centered mobile UX design? There are many out there, but one company that truly gets it is Venmo. Conceived in 2009 by two guys on a business trip together, the inspiration came when one of them forgot his wallet and the other had to fund his friend’s expenses until he could write him a check later. They realized that people needed a solution to pay each other without accessing and exchanging actual cash.

Venmo is easy to download and set up. Navigating the app is easy and intuitive, and the user interface has many–but not too many–options:

  • Make your transaction private or public

  • Find the people you interact with most on the app

  • Send messages with your payments, including endless fun emojis and animations

  • Instantly view your in-app balance and recent transactions

  • You can even buy crypto if you want

2. Optimize for speed and performance

As consumers, we have become insanely impatient, though most of us don’t realize it. Recent research shows that:

  • 53% of mobile site visitors will leave a page that takes longer than three seconds to load

  • A two-second delay in web page load time increases bounce rates by 103 percent

  • A 100-millisecond delay in website load time can hurt conversion rates by 7 percent

  • Bounce rates were highest for mobile phone shoppers, while tablet shoppers had the lowest bounce rate

Clearly, speed—or lack of it—is the most significant frustration for customers using mobile technologies. If your app doesn’t load or respond in a snap, you have a problem. No one wants to wait those two extra seconds, and in that time they’ll move on to a competitor’s lightning-fast alternative, and your product will be a distant memory.

This need for speed affects user satisfaction and retention and will ultimately lead to a loss of revenue for companies that can’t respond and fix the problem. So what can you do?

One of the best ways is to compress images and media to reduce file sizes without compromising quality. This article goes deeper into the reasons and solutions for slow load times.

3. Have intuitive navigation

Aside from speed, intuitive navigation is the ultimate goal of a successful mobile app. This is in part related to the speed issue above—the more difficult and confusing an interface is to navigate, the longer it will take the user to achieve what they want.

But it’s also about minimizing frustration and providing an interface that’s clean, uncluttered and provides a clear path to what they ultimately want to do. Easy navigation between screens is critical, so the navigation bar should be simple, with clear text and intuitive icons. Dropdown menus should be visible but without taking up too much space on the screen.

And don’t forget about gestures, taking into account the different ways we hold our phones and swipe, tap and scroll.

Image source

An intuitively designed product works how the user expects it to.

Two examples of intuitive design are AirBnB and Canva.

AirBnB has been around for 15 years, and the popular vacation rental app’s success is partly due to its easy and intuitive design. Despite the vast amount of content, the design is clean, with a navigation bar that provides clear direction. The fonts and icons are simple, and the logo color stands out against the black-and-white palette. The filtering options make search a breeze, and property preview photos show just enough information, such as price per night and review stars.

Graphic design tool Canva also has a clean design with lots of white space and uses a front-and-center search menu, clear navigation icons and access to recent designs just above the fold for quick reference. The left-side navigation bar provides additional easy access to projects, templates and brand assets with no search needed.

What are some of the apps that you’ve had an excellent experience with? Doing a deep dive into why your journey was a positive one is great inspiration.

4. Use consistent and recognizable UI elements

Consistency and recognizability in mobile apps is also vital to an intuitive (i.e. positive) user experience, and standardizing the UI components and patterns will help to achieve this. Cohesive visuals provide a feeling of familiarity and predictability throughout the user journey and contribute to the goal of reduced friction and intuitive navigation.

What type of elements are we talking about?

  • Color schemes should remain consistent across the entire platform

  • Icons and symbols for common actions must look like what they do (trash can symbol for deleting a plus sign for adding something or increasing a number)

  • Typography, spacing and visual styles should have only minor variations such as boldface or italics in specific instances

  • Naming conventions for buttons, menu items and other interface items also must be clear

This doesn’t mean you can’t insert creativity and humor, but use caution, and when in doubt, save it for other areas of the platform.

5. Minimize user effort

When you’re navigating a mobile app, the level of user effort will significantly affect your experience—and whether you choose to continue your journey.

Form completion is an excellent example of this. When you need to fill in your information, the shorter the form, the better, right? And what a relief when autofill and autocomplete do it for you!

This is another example of reducing friction in the user journey. Minimizing user effort—both physical and cognitive–is critical to delivering a user-centric and successful experience and leads to improved user satisfaction, engagement and retention. In fact, over time, it may also improve brand perception and competitiveness in the app market.

6. Personalize the user experience

Personalizing the user experience, when done well, offers significant benefits to both the user and the provider.

For the user, the journey is generally smoother, more engaging and more intuitive than a non-personalized one. The journey is aligned more to the individual and can provide relevant content recommendations.

Here are just a few options for personalizing the user experience:

  • User profiles and preferences

  • Behavioral analytics to use for recommending relevant content

  • Geolocation and context for recommending events or services based on location, weather, time of day, etc.

  • Personalized notifications about products or new arrivals they’ve previously browsed

In addition, advanced insights from a digital experience intelligence (DXI) platform provide an additional layer of context so you can understand more about individual customers’ behaviors, needs and preferences based on how they navigate your mobile app. Every interaction can be measured to uncover trends that will help you develop more personalized and tailored mobile app user experiences, ultimately improving stickiness.

7. Integrate mobile-specific interactions

Integrating mobile-specific interactions in a mobile app can create a more user-friendly, engaging and intuitive user experience. Implementing a touch-friendly interface for easy swiping and tapping makes the app feel native and responsive on smartphones and tablets, optimizing usability and accessibility.

In addition, advanced insights from a DXI platform can help you understand friction points so you can optimize for a better experience.

Here’s an example: Customers may be tapping on what they think is a CTA, but it's not. This leads to frustration and a poor overall experience. A DXI platform can identify common areas of struggle so you can optimize the customer experience and keep users from giving up and going elsewhere.

Finally, do NOT direct users to a browser. This “app-to-web transition” is a common design mistake that will increase bounce rates and decrease conversions. Why? Lots of reasons, including slow load times, authentication barriers, confusion and loss of context and general friction in transition.

8. Prioritize content and minimize distractions

If you want to create the most intuitive and positive experience for your users—one that will keep them engaged and coming back—prioritize content and minimize distractions. Here are a few best practices for creating that experience:

Your first objective should be to focus on the most important features and information. What do you want your target audience to do when they use your app? How does it help them, and what problems does it solve for them? And what makes your product better than the competition? Once you can answer those questions, THAT is the content you should prioritize and ensure is front and center.

(If you can’t answer the questions above, it may be time to put on the brakes and do a deep dive to learn more about your audience. A conversion rate optimization (CRO) audit can help!)

Next, to ensure your users find and engage with that top-priority content, you’ll want to minimize clutter and unnecessary elements that could distract them. A clean and minimalistic design with plenty of white space, consistency in colors and features and avoiding dense text and cluttered layouts will enable users to find what they need.

Minimize interruptions like notifications and pop-ups. It’s also helpful to allow users to customize notification preferences within the app settings. Your goal should be readability and clear navigation without distractions.

9. Gather and incorporate user feedback

User feedback is your direct ticket to understanding where problems and disconnects exist in the UX journey, and how to solve them. It takes some time and effort, but the takeaways will give you insights you can’t get from other methods.

Surveys, reading customer reviews and user interviews can all provide deep insights into where your users ran into problems, what their frustrations are and what they think of your product. Unfortunately though, not all customers are willing to provide feedback and the insights may be limited.

One of the most insightful methods for gaining user feedback is voice of customer (VoC)–the process of listening to what customers say about your business and then acting on their feedback. With VoC, you don’t rely on the willingness of customers to fill out a survey or write a review. VoC captures feedback in a number of ways, including passively observing comments across a range of channels—like social media, review websites or during support calls.

However you decide to gather customer feedback, the knowledge you gain will uncover issues affecting retention and ROI.

10. Optimize for different screen sizes and resolutions

Mobile devices account for 49.78% of all web visits, while desktops make up the remaining 50.22%.

This telling statistic spotlights the challenges UX design teams are up against. The population is now evenly divided between how they interact with apps vs. websites, and it’s why responsive design is more important than ever.

Defined as an approach to web design in which the interface adapts to the device’s layout, responsive design has quickly become non-negotiable for providing a positive user experience. Without it, users will be frustrated by a lack of usability, navigation challenges and fruitless information seeking.

You’ve probably experienced this firsthand. When using your phone to search for something, you have to navigate a confusing view that’s cluttered, images are out of proportion, text is squished and buttons don’t respond unless you tap them just right. Yet you’ve been on the desktop version and had no issues. That’s a lack of responsive design (not to be confused with adaptive design).

By using responsive design best practices, a design team will determine the different screen sizes and layouts they should create designs for, research the needs of each one and create the content according to the specifications for each. Often, the content will need to be edited to avoid text overload on smaller screens.

When creating these responsive layouts, the goal should be to eliminate as much friction as possible by restructuring information and being mindful of the “thumb zones” to minimize accidental clicks. And the login process–very important to ensure it’s not frustrating for the user, which is a common problem on small screens.

With responsive content, users will be comfortable interacting with your site no matter the device they’re using. Because when someone has a frustrating experience trying to complete a form on mobile, they probably won’t remember to go back to it when they’re home on their laptop.

11. Stay updated with the latest design trends and guidelines

“Once a new technology rolls over you, you’re not part of the steamroller, you’re part of the road.” - Stewart Brand

With technology trends and guidelines evolving by the minute (no exaggeration), staying on top of the latest developments in mobile UX design should be as standard as your morning cup of coffee.

Following platform-specific guidelines from iOS and Android should be a given to ensure consistency with the native user experience. These guidelines also ensure optimized performance, faster load times, cross-platform consistency, better security, development efficiency and accessibility recommendations (which are both an ethical responsibility and, in some states, a legal requirement).

But keeping up could also mean searching and subscribing to blogs about emerging design trends and patterns (you’ll be that person who suggests the latest amazing design detail your team can integrate).

Your team and users depend on up-to-date fixes and design features to make your UX the best it can be. Be part of the steamroller, not part of the road.

12. Continuous iteration and testing

Mobile app UX design is fluid—as the technology is constantly changing, so are the needs and expectations of users. For that reason, you’ll never be done with the app design.

In addition to keeping up with the latest updates to the technology, including security, accessibility, platform guidelines, etc., it’s imperative to also keep up with your users. Understanding how their experiences are changing as time goes on will guide you in the changes and updates needed to the technology.

In addition to the suggestions about user feedback in section 9 above, implementing an iterative development process where user feedback continuously informs ongoing design decisions can be transformational.

Voice of customer (VoC) enables passive listening to what customers say about your business and then acting on their feedback. The information gathered from this type of feedback provides insights you wouldn’t obtain in other ways.

Maintaining a feedback loop is also valuable, as it keeps users informed about the changes made based on their feedback while demonstrating that their input is valued–a great way to enhance the customer experience.

The point here is that the information gained from continuous, iterative feedback will guide your ongoing design decisions and provide an exceptional user experience.

Mobile UX design checklist

TLDR: If you’re short on time, we’ve recapped a mobile app UX design best practices checklist for you:

  1. Implement a user-centered design

  2. Optimize for speed and performance

  3. Have intuitive navigation

  4. Use consistent and recognizable UI elements

  5. Minimize user effort

  6. Personalize the user experience

  7. Integrate mobile-specific interactions

  8. Prioritize content and minimize distractions

  9. Gather and incorporate user feedback

  10. Optimize for different screen sizes and resolutions

  11. Stay updated with the latest design trends and guidelines

  12. Continuous iteration and testing

Mobile UX design: Examples of companies doing it right

Now that you have an understanding of these 12 best practices of mobile UX design, we thought it would be helpful for you to see a couple of examples of companies that we think are getting it right—Lemonade and Headspace:

Lemonade is an insurance app. But that doesn’t mean it has to be boring—in fact, Lemonade’s interface provides a streamlined and engaging user experience.

The design is clean—black and white with a splash of fuchsia to draw your eye where it needs to go. They have mastered creating a simple process to guide users through figuring out the coverage and how much it costs. Viewing changes to those options is quick and intuitive, with lots of options for what types of coverage you may need to add, either now or later. The virtual “person” helping you sign up actually feels like a pleasant, helpful human. Basically, it feels kind of zippy—NOT what you would expect from an insurance app.

Headspace is a mindfulness app, but it’s actually way more than that. It includes meditation, focus, movement and even sleep stories for those of us staring at the ceiling at 4am. The interface is simple, warm and friendly, with smiling, blobby creatures guiding you throughout. It’s easy to find what you’re looking for, with your most recent sessions showing up first. For an app that has an enormous amount of experiences available to its users, it’s surprisingly intuitive to navigate.

Final thoughts

If you’re a designer or developer, it may feel as though your work is never done—and that may be accurate. But prioritizing mobile UX design excellence will pay off in the long run with improved user satisfaction and app success.

Here are some key takeaways from these 12 best practices:

  1. First impressions matter: When a user is new to your app, you want to make sure they stay. A clean and uncluttered interface with plenty of whitespace, consistent design and intuitive navigation are critical to keep them engaged and coming back again.

  2. User feedback is your ticket to improvement: Without understanding what your users are experiencing and what’s frustrating them, you won’t know what to change. Experiment with different methods to find what works best, but don’t skip this vital step.

  3. UX affects your bottom line: Poor user experience will make your users go elsewhere—it’s that simple. Investing in these best practices for excellent ROI.


1. What is mobile app UX design?

Mobile app UX design is the process of designing the user interface (UI) and overall experience for a mobile application.

2. Why is mobile app UX design important?

Good mobile app UX design provides a positive experience for your users, ensures they have a good experience on your platform, and complete the actions you want them to.

3. What are the 12 mobile UX design best practices?

  1. Implement a user-centered design

  2. Optimize for speed and performance

  3. Have intuitive navigation

  4. Use consistent and recognizable UI elements

  5. Minimize user effort

  6. Personalize the user experience

  7. Integrate mobile-specific interactions

  8. Prioritize content and minimize distractions

  9. Gather and incorporate user feedback

  10. Optimize for different screen sizes and resolutions

  11. Stay updated with the latest design trends and guidelines

  12. Continuous iteration and testing

With advanced insights from a digital experience intelligence (DXI) platform, you can systematically analyze user behavior, identify optimization opportunities and implement data-driven changes leading to increased conversion rates and a better user experience.

Learn how Glassbox can help here.