The Ultimate Guide on How to Design a Mobile App

10minutes read
how to design an app

We couldn’t imagine our lives without smartphones in the modern world. With the number of applications increasing every day, hour, and even minute, the main question is how to create a mobile app design to make people not only use but also truly enjoy it? App design is an essential part of the mobile application development process. There are lots of examples of user-unfriendly mobile app designs that don’t meet quality standards. In our article, to avoid such problems, we explain how to create a functional and attractive app design that will meet all quality standards in the design world.

How to design an app?

What should you start with?

To create an eye-catching version of the application design that will work seamlessly, you need to understand all aspects and stages of its development.

We have divided the design of applications into the following steps:

  • Preparation
  • Planning
  • Design
  • Testing
how to make an app design
how to design an app

Step 1: App design preparation process

Even though the stage of preparation and planning are not directly related to design, they are essential components necessary for developing a high-quality and functional design.

The foundation of your app design process should be based on your overall business idea. A successful mobile development technically and logically begins with building your company strategy, which starts with in-depth research of markets, audiences, and competitors, as well as investigating threats and weaknesses of your business idea. Your business strategy has to meet your business goals, create opportunities, and serve user needs.

The process of an app design preparation envisages the following steps:

Shaping your business idea

Before you start designing your application, consider what business objectives the app has to meet, how your potential clients/users will be using it, and what customers’ problems it has to solve. What unique features are there going to be that will distinguish your app from other similar products of your competitors? To map your business idea, you will need to undertake the following steps:

Analyze competitors

The competitor’s analysis is a mandatory step before creating the app design itself. It includes a detailed study of the activities, main participants in this industry, analysis of prices, advertising, assortment, etc. Proper analysis and evaluation of the competitive design of the application allow you to create a sustainable competitive advantage of the product, choose the right communication channels, and reduce risks.

During the competitor analysis, you need to find out who you compete with to compare the products or services you offer, competitors you need to investigate ‒ direct and indirect. Direct competitors are those companies that offer exactly the same services and products as you, and indirect ones are those whose services differ from yours, but satisfy the same need and allow customers to achieve the same goals. Based on this analysis and the data collected, you can form a Unique Value Proposition (UVP). UVP is what distinguishes your business (product or service) from competitor offers.

competitor analysis app design process
app design process of competitors analysis

Form an outstanding UVP

A unique value proposition is an opportunity to convey to the buyer that no one else is doing the same as you. UVP outlines the benefits of your application. This is a very important aspect because among the many existing applications, the best way to stand out is to convincingly express yourself and let people understand why they should download your application instead of your competitors’ products. It is important to understand that the Value Proposition is not your slogan or positioning statement of your business. A good UVP should be concise, clear, and explain the main advantages of your business.

Target your audience

The next step is defining the target audience of your app. Who will use your app? Whom are you planning to focus on, and why? Will they be homemakers, students, businesses, or retired grandmothers who have a lot of free time? Proper identification and research of your target audience are some of the critical aspects of success or failure of any app development.

A common misconception is that developing an app for the mass market is the best option. In some ways it can be to your benefit, but looking at the niche market might be even more profitable and successful because there are fewer competitors. The better you study your target audience, the more you find out about people’s interests, and the higher the conversion rate you can get.

Understanding your target audience will make it easier for you to design the application in the future, as the tastes and preferences of your potential users become easier to understand, and more than likely, quality and functional design will satisfy them.

Choose the platform

Defining your target audience will help you decide which platform you need to use for your app since your target audience will be using either the IOS operating system or Android. Setting yourself the goal of creating a mobile app design for two platforms at once can be quite risky, and you may lose at the end, especially if you are creating an application for the first time. If you are willing to create an app design for both platforms, it’s better to start with the one and develop the second app only when you launch your app and validate your business idea.

navigation difference between iOS and Android
ios and android navigation distinction

Read also Flat Design vs Material Design: What Is the Difference Between Them?

Create a Lean Canvas

Lean Canvas, or Product Canvas, is a reflection of the entire business in a single template. The template helps to build a business model for a future startup and identify its capabilities. The information in the template can change throughout the process of its creation. That is why it is often used in flexible projects with a mixed result. The Lean Canvas business model is a table with a description of all the information and hypotheses about the product. Startups often create a Lean Canvas model instead of a business plan, since it’s rather difficult to calculate everything in your business if you have never created an application before. How does this model work? You fill out a simple template, which consists of the following blocks:

Step 1

Customer segments – A short description of your future clients, their: gender, age, income, interests, hobbies, location, needs, in other words – for whom you are doing your product/service.

Step 2 

Problem – A brief description of the problems that your potential audience has and that your application has to solve.

Step 3

Revenue streams – what monetization model you’re going to use, income from one client, revenue and profit.

Step 4 

Solution – a product/service that satisfies the needs of the clients.

Step 5 

Unique value proposition (UVP) – how your product is different from others, how it is unique, why customers should buy from you.

Step 6 

Channels of attraction – Tools you’re going to use to attract potential customers.

Step 7 

Metrics – what do you consider as the success of your product? What metrics are going to prove the success of your business idea?

Step 8 

Cost structure – a list of all expenses for creating and maintenance of the project.

Step 9 

An unfair advantage – is something that is hard to steal or copy. What will only be inherent in your business?

lean canvas app design process
app design lean canvas process

The main advantages of a Lean Canvas over a business plan:

  • Everything fits into one table. You do not need to write 50 sheets to anyone that is not needed.
  • It can be quickly redone; less time is needed for description; flexibility in drawing up this plan.

Step 2: App design planning

Mobile app design is a long and complicated process, and one of the key aspects of your future app success. Planning is an integral part of the design process, which should definitely be given due attention.

planning of app design process
application planning

The app design planning phase should include the following steps:

1) Choosing between an MVP or a fully functioning app

In case you are not sure whether your application will be in demand by users, there is a great way to save money by creating a minimum viable product (MVP) project that has fewest features, but that allows your customers to perform a task they need. This development approach allows you to get meaningful feedback from users, understand what they need, and don’t create something that they are not interested in and are not willing to pay for.

It’s basically a simplified version of the product you want to implement, designed to test your business idea and see if it’s worth creating a fully-fledged application at all.

MVP for startups doesn’t mean a raw product made in a hurry. It simply takes a minimum of time to develop it and contains only key features that are relevant to real users and should be tested. Research shows that 60% of the features are not used at all, and therefore are not in demand among users. An MVP concept allows reducing the time of project development by creating only necessary functions and starting getting real feedback on your product.

MVPs allow young companies to minimize their development costs. These cost savings are crucial in the early stages of a startup, as these startups don’t know how customers will react to their products or what features are needed to be added in the future.

If you’re not sure you’re ready to create a fully-functional application right away, then an MVP is exactly the right choice for you.

2) Make a feature list

During the planning phase, decide which features are absolutely necessary and which are secondary. A feature list is good for your application because it helps to convey specifically your vision of the product/service that you provide. Based on the needs of your target audience, determine what functions your target audience absolutely need in your application, and what features are optional. The variations in your feature list can be huge. You should not neglect the feature list during development, as a design, and all screens for your future application should be created based on it.

3) Decide on a business strategy

We all understand that any mobile application is, first of all, a business tool and a way to earn money. Just think about it, according to statistics, global mobile apps amounted to over 613 billion U.S. dollars by 2025!

You need to choose carefully what monetization strategy to use for your app. There are a lot of ways to earn money on mobile apps. If you think that you can only make money on paid subscriptions, then you are deeply mistaken. Let’s find out what common types of app earnings exist:

Free apps with advertising

This is one of the most common ways to generate revenue from an app. The Facebook mobile app is a perfect example of such an approach. Users pay nothing to the social network, but Facebook collects huge amounts of data about its users and then runs targeted ads. This model of monetization is extremely effective and brings great profits to Facebook.


This method of monetization is also very popular. Typically, applications with freemium monetization approach have a set of basic functions, and there’s another, more advanced app version that users can buy. The main aspect of this monetization strategy is to attract people to the application with a basic set of features. When users understand that they need more features in your app, they pay for a premium account. The main thing here is to recruit a large number of users and engage with them for a long time.

Paid apps

Another very common business model, which involves payment to gain access to the application. The cost can be very different – from $ 0.99 to $ 999.99 for every download. The key to success is to present the capabilities of an application in a favorable light to interested buyers at the very beginning. This business model adheres to the principle “pay, then take.” It is worth using for those teams that are confident that they can convince users to pay for the program.


Subscription is a business model that has a lot in common with Freemium. But here we are talking, as a rule, about getting the user access to the content, and not to the features of the program. Usually, a subscription (paywall in some cases) involves receiving a certain amount of content for free. If a user wants to get more, they need to pay.

app design earnings example
mobile app design earnings

There are still a huge number of ways you can make money on free applications. Among them, various types of advertising within the application (banners, ads, video ads), in-app purchases, sponsorship, selling merchandise, affiliates, referral marketing, payments for purchases, and more.

You only need to decide what is the most profitable monetization method for your business type and which method will definitely appeal to your target audience.

Step 3: Create app design

Only when all the previous steps are done, you can come to the most important stage in the process of creating mobile app design. The design process involves the following steps:

1) Creating wireframe for app design

Wireframes are simple preliminary layouts of a future app that usually outlines the placement and size of the page elements, navigation system, and app design features. The wireframes don’t have colors, font sizes, or any real design elements. They look like a rough sketch or a blueprint of a building. Wireframes are perfect to be done at the very early design stage, namely, design discovery or information architecture.

Wireframes are extremely important for design consistency and future app success for the following reasons:

  • Wireframes turn an abstract design idea into a real visual architecture. This helps all project stakeholders to be on the same page;
  • Wireframes clarify the app features to the client.
  • Wireframes push the usability of the future mobile app to the forefront. They show each page layout at their core, which helps designers to make the app easy to use.
  • Wireframes can be low-fidelity and high-fidelity. The first ones are done with the help of a pen on the paper and can cost nothing to a design team. High-fidelity wireframes are done in special apps. There are some wireframe tools that are absolutely free.
app wireframe
app wireframes

For example, you can use Figma, Sketch, or Adobe XD to create wireframes. All of these programs are equally great, but there are some small differences. For example, Figma is free and provides the ability for several designers to work at the same time. Designers, clients, developers can review one artboard at the same time.

Sketch is also a free tool but isn’t available for multiple users to work simultaneously. It’s very popular among specialists who design for iOS.

Adobe XD has less broad functionality, but it provides the interaction with After effects (animation).

how to make an app design
top application design tools variation

Don’t miss our article A Concise Guide on How to Make a Wireframe For an App

2) Creating mood boards for app design

Moodboards (sometimes also called inspiration boards) are a kind of preview of your future app design. It helps to present and agree with the visual components of your project, such as:

  • Photos or illustrations.
  • Colour schemes.
  • Fonts.
  • Textures of materials.
  • Slogans or headlines.
  • Logos of your company or a promoted product.
  • Icons, buttons, patterns.
mobile app design
visual mobile app design

In general, mood boards include all graphic design materials, which will clearly explain what spirit and mood of the project will be like in the future. All these elements are collected as a collage on one board.

There are a huge number of services that you can use to create a moodboard. The most useful, in our opinion, are:

  • Pinterest. It is the most popular and famous program that is used by both professional designers and people of completely different professions. The service allows you to attach pictures from other resources and upload your own. In addition, it is possible to link the image with a hyperlink.
  • Gomoodboard is also a very simple service to use but is more narrow-focused. Using this tool, you can collect the collage yourself and save mood boards in the pdf format.
  • Musepeak. This service is for professional use and allows you to share your ideas or mood boards with other users. Among the advantages over other services are the confidentiality of all data, the provision of guest URLs, and real-time correspondence with other users of the service.

3) Creating mobile app prototypes

A prototype in app design is a simulation or trial version of a final product that is used to conduct testing before launching it. Development of prototypes helps to determine usability issues before a project goes public, as well as identify problems or areas that require improvement.

The prototype should allow users to:

  • Perceive content and interface interaction;
  • Test the main interactions of the final product.

There’s a range of tools one can use to create prototypes. In our company, we use the InVision prototype tool.At Gapsy Studio, we believe that InVision is ideal for working together on the development of a preliminary project and receiving information from colleagues and clients. With InVision, you can quickly transform static mobile and web projects into interactive prototypes. The program allows us to create models in real-time.

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Step 4: Testing

Testing is one of the most important stages of the entire process of designing and developing an application: it helps to identify errors before the application is presented to actual users. Practice shows that in most cases, users don’t like an app if it has problems with functionality, regardless of how promising and attractive it seems. Conversely, even the simplest applications can be successful for commercial, business, advertising, and other purposes, if they work correctly and efficiently, in accordance with the expectations of the target audience. In order to test a mobile application, it is important to undertake the following actions:

Show design to the target audience

Testing of a mobile application is carried out with the help of user participation since only real people can understand the subjective sensations caused by working with the application. The task of testing is not only to find bugs. It helps to understand the quality of the application and find a way to improve it through real interactions. You need to test your application specifically among people who will be your potential customers in order to collect feedback and later use this information to bring your application to the best look and feel.

Collect feedback

Feedback from users is the main weapon in your hands, which helps you make your app perfect. Every detail is important in the reviews: the size of the buttons, the convenience to browse pages, the appropriateness of the icon colors. Every detail is important. After collecting all the reviews and finding errors or gaps in the design or development, you will need to eliminate them.

Improve design

Mobile app design can’t be created in one day. Besides, there is no such thing as “final design,” as there are always some aspects that might be improved or changed. The design has never been static. Trends are changing all the time. The well-forgotten old design becomes semi-polar again, and of course, standards improve every year. That’s why you shouldn’t be afraid of experimenting, trying new things, new tools, or ways of design.

mobile app design testing
test mobile app design

Summing up

The process of creating an application may seem like a long and complicated process at first. But if you break it down into small manageable steps that you can follow gradually, you’ll get a great result. The main thing that you need is patience and desire to create a truly unique and memorable app design.

You can also watch some of our recent app and web design projects to be sure that we put a lot of creativity and professionalism in our projects.

Are you ready to conquer the world with your app and get a good-looking, functional, and high-converting app? Then contact our designer team, and we’ll help you to create your best application 🙂

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