Here is some harsh truth. Design is subjective. What you might love, the next person may hate.
Therefore, when designing your app’s visual identity, it’s vital to get to know your users and what types of apps they enjoy from your persona research.
Instead of innovating a design and trying to create something new and extraordinary, — try to emulate what your Users are already using.
Stick to your Users’ likes, and try to represent your idea as close to that. So simple, yet so effective.
Tag along to get my time-saving tips and learn how to design an app and represent your idea visually.
When you design an app, your app logo is often the starting point (sadly)
The biggest barrier I see when people design an app and try to get the prototypes done is agonising over design details like your logo. The truth is, no one but you will genuinely care — especially at this early stage about the app logo. Yet, people agonise over naming their business and creating a logo.
- Spend one minute writing your company name in 3 fonts you like in any popular image editing software (if you don’t own a program or want to buy software for budgeting purposes, use Canva. It’s an incredible tool for creating quick designs).
- Ask three people what they think of your rough logo/design.
- Pick 1. Ta-da! That’s good enough for the prototype stage, I promise.
Some of you will disagree as you believe logo and design speak to the soul of potential users, and that’s up to you. I encourage you to focus on the bigger picture: at this stage, it is more about conveying the functionality and how you want to solve a problem. It’s not about winning design awards (though awards are good – more on that later!). And as your build progresses, you may find the mission of your idea may shift after market research, thus shaping how you should present your brand (a.k.a. you may have to revisit your design fundamentals at some point anyway!).
That being said, here are some resources I have personally used and can recommend if you want to have a logo beyond my time-saving tip above:
- Cheap resources to find off-the-peg logos <$50:
- Looka – Combines your logo design intentions with AI and helps you create a custom logo with a few clicks and within five minutes.
- Logogenie – Select a logo design from their template list and edit it with their editor tool until you have some official form.
- Brandmark – Generates your logo design fast and for free, just by describing your brand and choosing the palette of colours.
- Tailor Brands – More complex than the first three apps, this tool generates a logo just by entering your industry, selecting what your app is about, as well as your design and font preferences.
- Medium cost resources to have bespoke logos >$50:
- DesignCrowd – A global marketplace for logo designs, offering to hire freelancers that will design the logo for you.
- 99designs – Platform connecting businesses with freelancers, specialising only in design.
- Fiverr – One of the largest freelance platforms offering many digital services to buyers and sellers. Prices for logo design go from 5$ and above.
If you’re tempted to spend more than four hours on this, please slap yourself (hard) in the face, have a cold shower and ask yourself, “Why am I creating this business? Is it to win awards for my logo or because I want to launch something?”
You get the point, so get on with the more important things in the next section!
Advanced App Design Thinking
For apps to be successful, you need to think about your design with user journeys in mind. For me, this involves either a big whiteboard or a big piece of paper (e.g. A3)… and I try to map everything. You should focus on these questions: “How can I make it easy for users to sign up, and once they sign up how can I make/help them become ambassadors for my app?”
These are the three essential success criteria you need to keep in mind when trying to design an app:
How can you make your app design addictive?
An addictive app is one that a user wants to come back to daily. It’s on their Home screen if it’s an app (the ultimate compliment), and a user can’t imagine living without it.
Clearly, not all apps you’re thinking about creating will be able to fall into the “Addictive” category, so I encourage you to think carefully and creatively about what could drag a user back regularly into what you’re offering. That is beyond sending push notifications and is more about having a feature that’s addictive. It needs to be an inherent component — marketing can only go so far.
Let’s check at some specific examples:
- The Candy Crush Saga is addictive through great gamification. As you play, you are rewarded with small gifts that help you in the game. If you come back regularly you get rewards (Daily Rewards).
- Flappy Bird was a silly game that went viral, but it had a great design aspect: the place users normally tapped on the screen during gameplay was exactly the place where the “Try Again” button appeared once they lost… meaning you nearly automatically tried again every time you died!
- Any apps that have push notifications such as email or Facebook / Instagram. People get addicted to receiving messages and “likes” or wonder what other people are up to. These apps connect people together and are often opened > 20+ times per day.
How can you make your app design Viral?
Viral used to be a term related to disease, and in many ways, the digital/modern use of that phrase is similar: something viral is something that spreads uncontrollably. In a good or bad way… We’ve probably all seen viral videos like (Gangnam Style or # SquattyPotty’s viral ad campaign).
- Use something like Uber’s referral scheme asking to share once you’ve completed your first ride (a psychologically perfect time after a positive experience) and reward you with a free taxi fare for next time.
- Make something that stands out via new technology. This is easier said than done, but taking that kind of gamble can pay off if well executed. Those are the kinds of apps Apple loves to feature. For example, one of our apps uses 360-degree video to visit art galleries across the world and was featured in the app store: the result was >100,000 downloads in 3 days! Another great example of a viral app was the Dulux Visualiser. It lets you change the colour of your walls through augmented reality and share it with people.
- One final example using augmented reality was Masquerade, an app that lets you transform your face live into animals, monsters, cartoon characters, etc. It was a very clever app, that was shared incredibly often, and is a good use of new technology. I spoke with the founder earlier this year, who after having sold to Facebook is advising and investing in startups; as he said, his focus was creating an app so surprising and engaging that people HAD TO share with others!
How can you monetize your app?
Over the years, the market for apps has changed from paid downloads to free but supported by ads, to freemium (free initially then pay for some features), to a subscription model. For websites, this depends on the offering, but subscription as a Saas type (Software as a service – i.e. pay a monthly fee instead of an upfront cost) business makes the most sense, and we see tons of innovation around the concept of paying for something every month like accounting (Crunch.com), Cloud services or even Microsoft Office as a service through the Office 365.
Let’s take a look at some specific examples:
- Clash of Clans has a great Freemium strategy where they get you hooked into the game, and for you to succeed (a.k.a. build faster), you end up buying things in the game…the onboarding is so powerfully done it actually trains you to spend the in-app currency from the start. Only c. 10% spend any money on that app, but they are so engaged that they spend A LOT.
- Evernote focuses on the subscription. Once they become an integral part of your daily life (taking notes), they offer you a must-have feature (carrying those notes with you at all times across all your devices) for a low monthly cost.
The key thing to understand is what your users would pay and when they would be willing to pay. There is no right or wrong here, only assumptions you can test with real users. Next up is wireframing!
How to wireframe your app effectively?
Wireframing is the domain of UX (user experience) experts. There is as much art as a science to this process, but like most things, there’s an 80/20 way to do this.
If you have thought about the user journey and decided on the flow of your screens, now it’s time to arrange the functionalities on that screen. Focus on the 1-2 key things you want that user to do on each screen. Make it easy for them to get to the next part of the “journey”.
For example, let’s say a user has created a beautifully designed invitation for a party through your kick-ass graphic design product… and now it’s time to share this with their friends and family – and a crucial part of your viral strategy is always to include “made on mywebsite.com!” on the freemium invitations.
The best thing to do is have a screen reviewing the invitation and a BIG button saying “Show your awesome design to people you love” or “Get feedback from people” — something like that.
Sure, maybe people just want to save the invitation, or perhaps you think it’s time that the user paid you money, but that can be the next step. At that point in the user journey, the wireframe needs to show the invitation AND a big enticing button to share.
In short, each screen of your app needs to have one key call-to-action to move that user to the next screen in their journey.
It does get more complicated on navigation pages like the Home screen, but fear not! These screens have been tried, tested, and trusted by a plethora of previous apps. You just need to copy what exists and not try to break all design conventions by reinventing the wheel.
Process for app wireframing:
- Take the user flow you created and review the ideal/key journey(s) you want your users to make.
- Take pen and paper and roughly draw the first four screens (e.g. Login, Home, Profile and Main functionality screens). Do not spend time getting a ruler out. Just trust your instinct – you’ve seen tons of apps/websites before, so think about how they work.
- Now that you created and thought about four screens, is there anything you could improve? Try to redo them with optimisation in mind. If you’re a bit stuck, it’s time to take a look at apps or websites you currently use (or pttrns.com for apps, for example) and laser in on how they do it.
- Now, move on to the next screens that flow from the Main Functionality, and quickly sketch another four screens, then refine them as you did in step 3.
- Carry on until you’ve drawn all the screens you can think of.
- Now, cut them out and map your user journey out on a wall. Does it work? Are there any gaps or functionality missing? Ask a friend/trusted person their thoughts and walk them through the journey. Don’t have any friends close by? Then stick each image in invisionapp.com and record a screencast explaining the journey (using Vidyard chrome extension) and send it to someone, or do a Skype screen share (Conversations Tab > Share Screen). Just doing this will take you out of the weeds and back up to a helicopter view.
- Personally, I like to let things percolate for a day or two and then come back to it refreshed. All of the next steps flow from this one, so take your time getting it right!
Now that you have some hand-drawn wireframes of your creation, it’s time to tidy them up.
For this step, you can:
- Redraw them neatly with a ruler.
- Mock them up with a wireframing tool (iDraw, Balsamiq or UXpin – in order of ease/cost and less/more professional)
- Go straight to design using a tool like Sketch or Canva.
I am not a graphic designer so I do this step with pen & paper and then hire a designer to get them prepped for user testing.
Next up is ensuring you are on the right track with user testing using invisionapp.com (link up the screens into a prototype and share it with people).
Again: this stage is key to making sure the logic of your app is sound before you spend money on designers and developers.
Don’t agonise over it, but make sure there’s a logical flow that you can easily explain to other people.
The next step is to try to design an app – either doing that yourself (canva.com and Sketch are my go-to resources there) or getting some help (the cost to design up to 10 screens will vary from $200 to $1000 depending on who you hire and how much time you’ll need to spend helping perfect their work!).
Hopefully, the tips I shared above will help you design your app and help you present your idea visually in front of your potential partners.
Whether you choose a practical design or an innovative one is up to you. However, since you have limited time, resources and funds – make sure that your design decisions create impact without too much of an investment.
If you’re serious about moving your idea forward but are struggling due to time or worried you do not have the experience, contact us now to discuss coaching and “done for you” service to fast-track your startup idea.
If you have any additional questions or suggestions, feel free to add me on Linkedin. I am always happy to help.