App Anatomy 101: What Makes an App Effective

UI / UX / Design

A recent study by analytics firm Flurry pointed out that users spends an average of 5 hours per day on their mobile devices. And apps are an integral part of the mobile ecosystem. Apps can provide immediate access to key industry insights, performance reports, weather updates, and many other important data points.

The key element for a successful app is good UX design. This is what makes the difference between an app that we erase as soon as we download it and one that we keep using day after day.

According to Fortune, more than 75% of users open an app once and never come back. Users are very picky with apps, and with good reason, there are so many of them that we only want to keep the ones that are necessary and give us a great experience. So, let’s go over the top app design qualities that make an effective app.

How are apps different than websites?

Before we head over to the design section, let´s answer a common (and very valid) question.

“I have a website already…. Why do I need an app?”

The reality is that although apps and websites share many similarities they offer different benefits.

With mobile apps it is easy to give users a personalized experience. You can offer tailored communication to users based on their interests, location, usage behavior, and more. It is easier to send important notifications and also make use of mobile device features such as GPS, contact list, camera, and phone calls.

These reasons make apps an almost necessary asset for all major companies.

Give users strong reasons to use your app

A typical scenario: A company launches a new app for their clients. At first, the number of downloads—and users— grows rapidly. The app is regarded as a huge success. Then, the numbers drop steadily until they reach a complete standstill.

For your app to be successful you need to give users a strong reason to use it. Otherwise, why would someone keep an app in their phone if it adds no value?

Use your app to show your clients a summary of their investments without the need to go through a complicated login process. Save them time by offering the latest key market insights in an appealing manner. Notify users when there is a major shift in the market occurs, so they can respond to capture return opportunities. These are all good reasons to convince your clients of downloading and using your app.

Before developing an app think very clearly about the goals you are trying to achieve and what value you are offering through your app.

Don’t take colors lightly

The right use of colors can lift the mood, and influence actions and emotions. Colors improve the aesthetic value of your app, and the functional aspect as well.

Incorporating colors into conversion actions, such as intense colors for buttons that trigger conversions and strong contrasts to showcase the most important actions/features can go a long way in improving user experience.

Colors should be incorporated to ensure readability. Intense, contrasting colors with nice fonts are always in demand. You can make the interface vibrant and attractive with fonts and colors in different styles and intensity. The use of vibrant colors is becoming popular in app design. Instagram led the way by incorporating vivid colors into their logo, so it stands out in your phone´s home screen. Don´t be shy to blend in unique color schemes, as long as they offer a good visual experience.

Keep it simple

When users open an app, they want their needs satisfied immediately. The last thing they want is to dabble in a complex interface looking for what they need.

Make key information easy to locate. If a user wants to check a report with your app don’t make her go through a few tedious steps to find it. Display it overly in the home screen and solve the users need instantly.

Also, keep your app´s features to a minimum.

Nothing is more confusing for first-time users than an app that is overcrowded with features. The most effective apps focus on a limited set of features and they perform these very well.

Take a look at Uber´s home screen:


Notice how it goes directly to the point. The “Where to?” function and some of your latest addresses is all the functionality you can find in the home screen. This is one of the reasons why Uber´s interface is so effective.

Strive to nail down a set of very specific goals you want your users to achieve and make them easy as possible to achieve within the app.

Always ask yourself: “Do I absolutely need this element in my app?” if not, then there is absolutely no need to add it.

Ensure a good onboarding experience for first time users

If you fail to make a great impression for first time users, there are high chances they will never come back.

A slow, unclear onboarding process can make a user drop off your app even without starting to use it.

Ask only for essential information to users who are signing up for the first time. Make entering information as easy and intuitive as possible. If you maintain any form in your app make sure it is as short as possible.

Once the user is inside, briefly explain the core features of the app. How to use it and provide clear instructions only when necessary.

Also, follow a progressive disclosure process to show how the app works step by step. This keeps users engaged and they can actively discover the app´s workflow.

Onboarding is a great way of getting users familiar with the app and comfortable with its interface.

Remain consistent

The appearance throughout your app should remain consistent at all times.

Some of the guidelines that will help your app remain consistent:

  • Use the same typefaces, buttons, labels, icons, language, functionality, and interactive elements across your app.
  • Keep in mind that every mobile OS has standard guidelines for interface design. Such as Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines and Google’s Material Design Guidelines. You need to stick to the guidelines of each OS and not create an interface that is far off target.
  • Use native components as much as possible from the OS you are designing for. Do not carry elements from other platforms, as they might be too different from what users of a specific OS are used to.
  • Remain consistent with your website and social media profiles as well. A user should never feel they are interacting with another brand when using your app.

Design with a mobile mindset

Mobile design has its opportunities and constraints and it depends on your objectives which is which. However, what you cannot deny is that when designing an app you need to think in mobile.

The limited real estate on our mobile devices means your app´s design will be limited by space.

Clogging up your app with unnecessary content is one of the worst things you can do for user experience. This means, shorter texts, less instructions, and a focus on communicating only what is crucial in order to achieve the core functionality of the app. Standard text size should be 11-point size at all times.

Image source: Apple

Touch is another key factor to be aware of. Most users generally use only their thumbs to navigate on their mobile screen–this behavior is a key consideration in how effective apps are designed.

Make buttons (or other actionable elements) big enough so they are never missed. An area of at least 7-10mm is recommended. Such an area makes the edges of the target visible, so users can know if they are tapping the target accurately.

If targets are not big enough your users will often miss, and this will understandably frustrate them.

Image source: Apple

Another element to keep in mind is the location of your actionable elements.  By studying the below graphic, we can understand where we should place our most important buttons.

Thumb zones for a right-handed person, according to research by Scott Hurff

The buttons that allow core functionality in your app should remain in the green zone (submit and share buttons for instance). Less critical buttons such as “delete” can be placed within the red zones.

App design trends for the future

In the UX/UI world changes occur very quickly so let’s take a look at some of the trends that are projected to impact app design the most during the next years.

  • Voice Enabled Interfaces: Mobile apps that can take voice orders are expected to grow significantly in the upcoming years. Voice features will reduce issues with limited space within app screens and allow users to prompt key functions with a single voice order.
  • Biometric Authentication: Financial and banking institutions are already adopting this technology. Fingerprint biometrics will increase safety by its ability to fend off hackers and fraudsters. It is expected that this technology will be more widely available for use in mobile apps in the following years.
  • Higher Quality Images: Standard PNG and JPG image formats are already being replaced with high quality images and SVGs or Scalable Vector Graphics. We expect apps to be more visually appealing and see an increase in the importance of visuals for interactions.
  • Face recognition: Animoji, the animated emoji in the iPhone X that works with the phone’s camera and facial expressions is an example of how face recognition technology will give a new spin on how we interact online and the features available in our apps.


A great app excels by giving users a satisfying visual experience and delivering a few clearly defined functions. Inspire your design team by observing apps that receive awards from Google and Apple and don’t hesitate in implementing them into your own app as well. Remember, an app is only as good as its design.


Interested in learning how the Gate 39 Media team can help with your custom app development? Contact Gate 39 Media