Designing Great Mobile Experiences Can 'Make or Break' User Retention

  • By
    Yonette de Ru
    February 21, 2019
    April 25, 2022

Mobile devices are small but mighty. In the last decade, mobile devices have evolved to such an advanced state, there are stacks of capabilities no one could have imagined just 20 years ago. These handheld devices can instantly do tasks that used to require huge computers.

Mobile devices are now most people’s little sidekick, meant to be taken with you on-the-go for the purpose of communicating with others, taking pictures, calculating, navigating directions and finding information in a flash. More recently, mobiles have become the key devices people use to interact with products and services. As a result, designing great mobile experiences can be the make it or break it factor in user retention. For every product or service out there today, there are a ton of competitors, especially when it comes to applications. If any aspect of a user’s interaction with a mobile interface is unpleasant or frustrating, there is a good chance that a user will find a competitor with a more pleasing user experience.

Designing for mobile

Since mobile devices are small, designing for them can be extremely tricky. In part, this is due to the fact that both the volume of content and the integrity of a user experience is expected to be similar, even with a lack of real estate. In the spirit of consistency across mediums, mobile designers can sometimes do too much. There are so many exciting elements one can add to a mobile experience, but too much of a good thing detracts from the core purpose of a product. When designing for mobile, there are some best practices that should be considered.

Best Practice #1: Understand Your User

One of these best practices is conducting research and understanding your users. Designing for your target audience without understanding them defeats the purpose of user experience design. Is your product a news service? Who is your target audience and are they most likely to be using your product on the go? On their commute? What should microinteractions look like then, in their situation? Does your user have a short attention span? Or do they like drawn out explanations? These are questions you only get answers to through thorough user research and once you understand your user, it is much easier to design a clean and easy to use mobile experience that serves their purpose.

Best Practice #2: Keep it Clean

On a related note, another best practice is to avoid designs with too much going on. Screens on mobile phones are far smaller than desktop screens, which means that you’re not going to be able to fit the same amount of content and details into a mobile experience. This is perfectly okay, since mobile experiences should be cleaner and a little more on the minimal side. How do you decide what stays and what goes? Try and decide which design aspects are integral to your app or website. What speaks to your brand and mission? More importantly, what aspects are the most beneficial for your user. Think of Facebook for example. When you login on your desktop, there’s a ton going on. From the various buttons and tabs, to the ads AND your feed, there’s a lot going on. In the mobile app, these aspects are tucked away from the main screen using a hamburger menu. The functions that are tucked away are important, but they’re not integral to the Facebook experience, so they took a backseat. Too much information when it comes to mobile design is much more obvious as a result of the limited space, so it’s important to keep it simple and think about whether the elements you’re including really have a purpose and benefit to your user.

Best Practice #3: Use Meaningful Microinteractions

Microinteractions are small but meaningful interactions that have the power to completely shape a user’s experience. Touching on microinteractions is important when discussing design in general, but is particularly important when it comes to mobile design. This is because there is a much finer balance between too many and too few microinteractions on mobile devices. Too few microinteractions and you’re likely to be left with confused and disengaged users. Too many microinteractions and you’ll end up with overwhelmed and disengaged users. The below images illustrate the difference between “good” and “bad” microinteractions.


This microinteraction adds to a user’s experience by ensuring that the field they’re working in is still labelled after they’re begun filling it out. This is incredibly helpful because it ensures that a user doesn’t forget what they are filling out, particularly if they get distracted mid-task.

"Not so great"

This interaction is both parts overwhelming and confusing. Why are so many things happening and why does a “new message” screen pop up with just a scroll.

For this reason, it is important that microinteractions are used only when they really add something to a user’s experience, and in perfect balance. More importantly, microinteractions should add and not detract or distract from an overall experience.

Best Practice #4: Use Timely Feedback

Just like microinteractions, feedback is always important but particularly so when it comes to mobile experiences. Feedback is an important way to communicate small bits of information to users without overwhelming them with information. For example, a small checkmark popping up when a form field has been filled in correctly is an example of feedback that is helpful to a user. A loading page with a progress bar is also a great example of feedback that elevates a user experience.

This small interaction communicates to a user that:

1) the last action they made was successful;

2) they’re on their way to the next screen/part of their journey; and

3) it indicates how close they are to getting to that destination. These small bits of information make users feel informed and in control.

Frustration often comes from not knowing what’s going on during an experience. Feedback is not to be confused with microinteractions, but feedback can be communicated using microinteractions!

In conclusion, designing for mobile can be tricky but can also be incredibly rewarding. Several varying factors play into designing a great user experience, and the most important of those factors make or break a great mobile experience. As you might be able to tell from the points made above, the best way to successfully design for a mobile experience is to strike a fine balance between what adds to an experience and what detracts. This rings true when it comes to all aspects of mobile design, but particularly when it comes to microinteractions and feedback.

Moreover, just as it is with traditional UX, it is important to not design for mobile with misconceptions in mind, but instead, to really understand your intended user. As is the case with all user experience design, understanding a user base and their needs lies in thorough user research. This includes continually designing a mobile medium when it’s in the design phase. Initial research isn’t enough! As mobile trends continue to shift, design recommendations will inevitably continue to change, but the best practices outlined above will more than likely always ensure a great user experience.


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