I’ve built apps, in some shape or form, for about 20 years now. During this time, I’ve always started the same way—design the user interface, build the backend services and connect everything together, adding in appropriate logic along the way. Recently, however, I’ve noticed that my design philosophy has changed. It’s less about how screen A interacts with screen B and more about how the app works naturally with the way the user interacts with everything else on their phone and the world around them.
Consumer expectations of apps have changed to something far less rigid than individual app silos. It got me thinking, what does this new consumer experience mean for app developers like me? I realized that I had started designing apps based around this notion that I wanted my apps to be worthy of being on someone’s home-screen. The more I thought about it though, the home-screen was my way of defining a design philosophy that I had unknowingly been building for.
Get on the Home-Screen
The Google.com homepage used to be considered the most valuable space on the internet. Today, this is the home-screen of mobile phones, with companies such as Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon all battling for dominance. In fact, 2 in 3 users in the U.S. keep their most used app front and center on the home-screen, with 21% of 18-34 year olds deleting apps because they didn’t like the way it looked on their home-screen. That’s a scary thought.
As much as we would love to create the next app which users can add to their home-screen, the likelihood of that is pretty slim. It doesn’t mean you can’t tap into the success of these apps, though. Rather than trying to build an app which competes against social giants, you can use their reach to get your service in the hands of more users.
When designing your UI, don’t think of your app as a walled garden that users have to open to use. To be successful, think about the CX of your service as it may appear in other apps—specifically those already on the home-screen. Digital disruptors, such as Lime and Uber, are leading the charge through integrations with apps like Google Maps.
We are also seeing more traditional companies like Spirit Airlines allowing airlines to buy flights and change reservations directly through WhatsApp. Vero, the new kid on the social media block with an estimated 3 million users since it’s launch in March 2018, offers app developers an amazing opportunity for their service to be discovered early, and secure a place on the home-screen.
Build for the Message, Not the App
With social media now a part of the fabric of our lives, it is no surprise that communications and social apps are the most popular category of mobile apps. This gives mobile app developers a huge opportunity to improve the CX of their apps—as it is a pretty safe bet that almost every user has the capability to receive some sort of social media message, and every single phone has the ability to send and receive text messages.
When building your next app, in addition to designing the screens, make sure you design the message flow. Ask yourself, is the message urgent? If so, utilize text messages or push notifications to immediately capture a user’s attention. If the message is not urgent and more likely something a user may want to search for, rather than forcing the user to log into your app to find an order or receipt, why not use email as that archival system of record? With nearly 4 billion email accounts worldwide, and 90% of users checking their emails at least once a day, even if a user doesn’t have your app installed, they will still be able to find important records about your service. What’s more, most customers want the option to choose which channel they receive messages on. Knowing a user’s preferred channel for engagement helps developers build a better experience.
The Lock-Screen Is the Next Battleground
Let’s take a step further. What happens if you design the app without a UI at all? Doing so removes all of the distractions and forces you to think about how a user will gain value from your app. What are the services you need? What is the process you would follow? How will you get users’ attention? This last point—attention—is critical. With people’s attention span lasting approximately 8 seconds, building your app to grab someone’s attention at the right time is important. We’ve all been bombarded with spam and robocalls that constantly fight for a slice of that 8 seconds. Our natural inclination is to block out all messages. To solve this, I’ve started designing my apps around the notion of getting on the lock-screen.
If you think about it, the lock-screen is even more valuable than your phone’s home-screen. To have your app or message appear on the home-screen, the user has to explicitly allow it, thereby signaling the importance of your service. This is incredibly powerful for an app developer to consider, especially when wearables, smart homes, connected devices, cars, etc., continue to grow and expand the potential surface that your users could engage with your app. Next time you build an app, consider how your app will grab someone’s attention via the lock-screen, then challenge yourself to think how you would do it if there was no UI at all.
Winning the CX Battle
A home-screen worthy design breaks down the boundaries of traditional mobile app development. Gone are the rigid constraints that a user must do everything with your app. By approaching app design that leverages how users already expect to interact with their phones—preferred apps, preferred channels and immediate attention—developers can make something different, something more engaging, something that immediately adds more value to the customer. When consumer expectations change, you’ll already be two steps ahead of everyone else.