I wanted to share some excellent design practices that I have picked up for mobile apps. What I am presenting here is not nearly the extent of good info out there, but it is a very good baseline for beginners trying to get there feet wet in designing mobile apps.
User’s first experience
The first few things a new user will be thinking about your app are:
Where am I?What can I do here?Can I do even more?
You want the answers to those questions be be as obvious as possible to your users or you will lose their interest fairly quickly. If your app has multiple sections try to create unique layouts and personalities (if it fits with your type of app). If you have multiple pages to your app that have similar layouts, to differentiate, give each section its own title or icon that indicates the page or section you are in. Don’t keep your users guessing as to what can be done on the screen. If your app has an extended amount of functionality that may not be initially apparent, consider creating a start-up tutorial that loads only on the first time start-up, that walks the user through the functionality of the app.
Important and within reach
You only have so much real estate when it comes to what I like to call “thumb space”. Regardless of how you design your app (portrait, landscape) you want to keep your most important functions/buttons within areas directly around your thumbs. ”Thumb Space”
Whether it’s a smartphone or tablet, chances are the user will be holding the device in a manner that gives them the most flexibility and ease of use. It makes sense to group your main functions in areas that are the easiest to access.
Lord of the Buttons
Let the users know which buttons are in charge. You want to create your interface with a clear hierarchy by designing and displaying the most important functions largely and brightly. Don’t be afraid of making your key functions standout from the rest, maybe try adding a subtle animation that draws the users attention. Be creative and remember that a little hand holding may be needed to make sure that the user is getting the full use out of your app. Mobile devices are used at home, at work and at play! Remember that there are also exterior elements that can interfere, mainly SUNLIGHT! Try to create enough contrast between important elements and the rest of your screen (ie light background, dark buttons) to make them stand out!
No waiting Games!
If there is one thing you should NEVER EVER do, it is NEVER expose your user to a blank screen. Personally, if I’m using an app and in the middle of a function or screen change, if I see a blank/black screen I’m assuming something is not working right. Always let the user feel like something is happening in the background. There are all sorts of things you can add to show the user that things are running as they should. For example, during short load/save times you can show a spinner rotating on the screen, while during longer periods you could display a progress bar indicating how much time is left. You can get really creative in how you show your background functions, but just remember to let your user know that something is happening.
Graphic Designer at Translucent Computing Inc.