That sounds incredibly simple, but when it comes to the mechanics of the process, there are multiple stages ensuring nothing gets missed – having safety nets in place to investigate what those issues could be and to catch them.

Whose job is it to decide what each mobile app design process includes?

That’s a good question. If you’re hiring a team of in-house designers and developers, it will be whoever manages your teams.

If you’re outsourcing the work to an agency, they should already have a system, workflow, and plenty of communication channels. However, you’ll still need to know their plan to stay informed, monitor progress, and prevent issues from getting out of hand if you spot things your hires don’t or can’t be expected to.

What every mobile app design strategy needs

When you’re confident your idea can provide a positive financial return and has something unique to offer the market, your plans should include:

  • Research – What will your app do? What problems does it solve? How will it turn a profit? Who are your customers?
  • Ideation – How will your app look and perform? What kind of app is it? How is it different from what’s already available?
  • Problem Identification – What problems do you foresee? What are your competitor’s shortfalls? What are their customers’ biggest complaints?
  • Design – How do you create an app that combats those issues?
  • Feedback – How do you test each version at each stage to ensure you’re continuously moving forward?
  • Problem Evaluation – How do you process each testing stage to deliver the best solutions?

The stages of your process cater to each element. However, testing shouldn’t be limited to a single step but be prevalent throughout the journey. Making changes saves time and frustration. That’s why testing is utilized through all stages, whether by its designers, shareholders, or user test groups.

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What a typical mobile application design process looks like

The following list covers basic mobile app design guidelines:

  • Mobile UX design research
  • Wireframes
  • Mockups
  • Prototypes
  • Testing
  • Feedback
  • Redesign/repair
  • Repeat – until you have a product you’re happy to send to developers

As far as each step or process goes, numerous tools and software products are available.

If you’re in charge of building an app, you’ll hopefully have the project management skills required to decide which is best for you and your teams. On the other hand, if you’re outsourcing, it’s worth discussing with your agency to ensure you stay on track and are all on the same page.

1. Mobile UX design research

Before any design work begins, conducting in-depth research into all the items your app needs to address, solve, and deliver – to achieve your goals and satisfy users’ needs – is essential.

App features:

You can’t always build everything you want right away. However, deciding what are essential, priority functions, and what will have to wait until later will help you create your first set of designs. Ideally, you’re looking for items that make the most impact on your users and take the least amount of effort. They won’t always come as a pair, so deciding which are the most important helps define your strategy.

Having a clear idea of the things you’ll save for future versions can help map out your product’s lifespan – but be prepared for that to change too. App design is an organic process renowned for curveballs heading into the mix at any given point.

User flows:

Making simple flowcharts of the required user actions to complete each operation is the precursor to wireframes. From their starting point (wherever that may be), you’ll decide the steps they need to take or information to absorb to help them purchase, download, interact, or win.

Each app will have several user flows for its full range of operations, and when you add them together, you should have something close to your app’s design architecture.

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2. Wireframes

The mobile app wireframe is the skeleton of your app – all the bones and none of the flesh. They create a visual presentation of your app’s structure, but without any of the bells and whistles. Wireframes are functional, so it’s the UX designers who take the lead. They can be hand drawn or built using custom software. However, they must be simple, clear, and concise, presenting representations of the screens involved in each flow.

They’ll help confirm what each user needs to move on to the next stage, including navigation elements, images, buttons, CTAs, content, and more. The critical thing to remember is that they’re your most straightforward representation; they’re essential, black and white, and utilize placeholders for each element; the design of the look and feel of those elements comes later in the process.

Depending on your process, either mockups or prototypes come next. Some designers prefer to build prototypes to test the functionality of the wireframe design before designing its graphic elements, and others – happy with their choices – may jump straight into creating the mockups to display how each prototype page should look.

3. Mockups and UI design

With wireframes at the ready, your graphic and UI designers will create options to suggest how your app can look and feel. Yes, they’ll be in line with your brand style, tone, colors, and voice, but built to satisfy your app’s performance under the constraints of operating on mobile hardware. In addition, your designers will deliver layouts for every step and page in the user journey.

Mobile app UI design caters to content layout, type, color, contrast, white space, media, icon use and navigation. It’s an exciting step, as you’ll finally have visual examples of your product's appearance.

4. Prototypes

With your preferred mockup designs chosen, it’s time to create your first prototype. There’s plenty of prototyping software to choose from, much of which will lead to a possible MVP (minimum viable product). Prototypes combine many elements you’ve decided on so far, allowing you to test drive your user journeys with examples of the visual aspects they’ll encounter along the way.

A prototype isn’t a finished product; it’s a tool to see how the app works, and in some cases can be as simple as the paper versions we looked at during wireframing. A low-fidelity prototype is often as essential as your wireframe diagrams but performs as you hope your app will.

Once confident that the flow feels and works correctly, each element from your mockup and UI design are filtered in to produce a high-fidelity prototype and your MVP.

5. Testing and feedback

We previously mentioned that testing is a must at every stage. However, authentic feedback from real users is essential for prototyping and MVP. UX research testing is a vast topic and not one easily covered in a couple of paragraphs. Nevertheless, it uncovers all kinds of unseen flaws, questions, and considerations to review and examine to rectify complications and issues from the build so far.

The feedback from mobile UX testing allows you to revisit your prototype, to rebuild and rectify those newly discovered issues. Then, once you’ve got a fine-tuned prototype and everyone’s happy with the result, you can send it to the developers to be built and launched into the wide world of apps and users.

Feedback loops – an app is never truly complete

Even when you’ve launched an app, the process isn’t complete. Sadly, you can’t simply sit back and watch the money roll in. There are still a thousand marketing and sales avenues to deploy and chase, but the world doesn’t stand still, so neither can you or your app.

Beta testing or a soft launch allows further testing before going public. Once launched, you should set up feedback loops, including questionnaires and surveys, to reveal what your new users genuinely think of your app. There’ll also be plenty of action on your app store reviews and social media, so keep a close eye on all touchpoints to avoid arising issues.

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Mobile application design process. The conclusion

Making your mobile app design ideas a reality takes a lot of hard work. But, if you’ve got the management skills and experience to tackle the project, that’s great, and what an adventure you’re about to embark upon. Otherwise, it’s a case of putting the right people in place with the skills and experience to make your dream happen. Options include:

  • In-house design and development teams
  • Freelance remote teams
  • App design agencies
  • App design and mobile development specialists

Apptension can take you all the way from mobile app design to deployment

With some of the best designers, digital developers, and business minds in the market, we can help with every part of your process. So whether you need a little assistance with the trickiest parts of your package or a fully-fledged team to guide you through the entire journey, we’ve got all the experts you need, ready to take you to the next level. Get in touch!

Here's also an example of mobile application design by Apptension.