Look & Feel: Top 5 App Design Principles

Design for mobile can be one of the biggest hurdles between failure and success. While it’s tough to quantify design, these top 5 design principles can help to make your app as user friendly as possible.

Surface Most Common Items

Feature your app’s most common functionality front and center

SoundHound highlights the app’s most common action

No one likes to look through menu after menu to find the feature they’re looking for. With this in mind, make your app as efficient as possible. Place the most important feature right in front of the users face – make it so they can’t miss it!

A perfect example of this is can be seen on SoundHound’s music recognition app. They have identified the most common action a user will be doing: identifying music. To make this feature as accessible as possible, they made this button front and center, taking up over half of the screen. Not only does this practice make for a less frustrating user experience, it helps emphasize the main purpose of the app.

 The Devil’s in the Details

Give the design a handcrafted experience

Path does a great job creating a “handcrafted” experience for their app.

Standing out in a sea of apps can be a challenge. To do so requires an attention to detail that will make the user love to open your app each and every time. Creating this “handcrafted” feeling is as challenging to execute as it is to describe. There are several simple ways to achieve this holistic experience. Whether through subtle animations, a fluid and fun user experience, or a polished interface – these details will all help your app stand out from the pack.

A prime example of this “handcrafted” and unique experience can be seen on Path’s latest release. From the smooth animation from the plus key in the bottom left hand corner to the slick feeling the app gives, it all feels finished. These details have certainly set Path above the crowd as evident from their explosive growth since their latest release.


Maximize Real Estate

Minimize the User Interface

Minimizing UI elements is critical for effective mobile design. Because smart-phones have such small screens, every millimeter of screen real-estate is critical. Therefore, whenever you can hide distracting elements that might get in the way of the user’s experience – do so! By hiding static menus and buttons, a user will be able to focus all of their attention on content.

Pinterest does an excellent job of getting out of the user’s way. As soon as you begin scrolling to look at content, the UI elements seamlessly disappear. Such a fluid transition allows the user to focus purely on their content.

Keep Your App Consistent

Adhere to OS design paradigms to make it easy for your user to jump right in and get started

Another way to make your app simple for a user is to remain consistent. Not only should you be consistent with your brand’s own style, you should design your app to be consistent with established design principles. For example, on  iOS a user can always click the top left corner to go backwards in an app. On Windows Phone we can see the swipe function utilized throughout. Ultimately, it is critical to design your app with these paradigms in mind so your user can jump right in without a steep learning curve.

Progressive Content

Don’t barrage a user with content across the screen – create order with a purpose

Instagram lets the user focus on one photo at a time to maximize screen real estate.


When designing for mobile it is important to focus a user’s attention purely on their content. The best way to achieve this is to show a user’s content progressively.

In other words, showing each piece of content one at a time – not bombarding them with a flurry of information. By showing the most recent content first a user can quickly check what’s new without a hassle.

To demonstrate the effectiveness of this method we can take a look at one of the best practices of this – Instagram. With Instagram, a user can see their friends’ most recent photo first then quickly scroll through to see older content. With a progressive display it focuses the user’s attention on the most relevant information without the clutter.

This article has 5 comments

  1. […] apps fully embrace the basics of platform and human interface design, but they should also abide by a few other principles. To better understand this, it makes sense to dig into both the functional guidelines as well as […]

  2. […] forward with iOS, some critics wonder if Apple is holding back the industry in one key aspect: mobile design. At one point, Apple was seen as a design innovator. Now Apple’s use of real world materials and […]

  3. […] exclusively through screenshots. Video trailers are also much more illustrative examples of the “look & feel” characteristic for each app, allowing prospective users to learn the specifics of the user […]

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