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Mobile UI: Should You Follow the Guidelines?

High-quality mobile apps are rare and mobile games show the same trend. A survey shows that an app loses 77% of its DAUs on average within the first three days after installation. There are many factors that determine success or a fiasco of an app and UI is one of them.

Other research revealed that bad UI/UX is one of the top five reasons for uninstalling an app. It accounts for approximately 42% of uninstallations. Other important reasons include annoying notifications, complex registration, freezing, intrusive ads, and more.

Let's take a look at the two most popular platforms: Android and iOS. Android has captured the largest share in the mobile marketplace, while iOS is extremely popular across developed countries like the USA.

All platforms have pretty similar functionality which is executed in a little bit different ways. The platforms have their own standards for the things like menus, lists, etc.

See below how a search bar for Android looks:

Source: developer.android.com

The bar for iOS is a little bit different:

Source: developer.apple.com

There are many more features, making apps developed for different platforms distinct from each other.

But Why Are There So Many Similar and Even Boring Apps?

Each platform has specific UI patterns app developers are advised to follow while creating a new app. The key advantage of the guidelines is that they assist in adjusting approaches to the UI development and help mobile app developers to be on the same wavelength with users.

All developers want their app to stand out and become popular among users, thus, bringing in revenue to the business. But can an app stand out if mobile app developers follow the guidelines very closely? Will it be different from other apps?

We believe that the importance of UI guidelines provided by developers of OS's is sometimes overestimated. If developers adhere to them to the full extent, all apps will be very similar to each other and their users will be bored and become reluctant to spend their time and money on such apps.

What Can Be Done to Make an App Different From Others?

The introduction of some unique features can be a way out. This way has already been chosen by large companies such as Amazon, Uber, eBay, etc. These companies are not afraid to cross the borderline and their apps can boast different unique and custom UI features and tricks providing their users with truly unique visual experience.

Large companies like the ones mentioned above have significant resources. These resources can be invested into the development of new UI features or, otherwise, they can just create an app design they like disregarding UI recommendations since they are sure that people will use this app. However, the guidelines should not be ignored, as there is a risk to create an app with a torture-like UI, a sin that is hard to forgive.

Here is an app with 10-50 million installs, but many users claim its UI is outdated. And this is absolutely true, though UI was improved to a certain extent due to changes made in the latest version of this app.

Who Are Those Who Decide to Adhere to All the Guidelines?

Developers are often afraid to waste their chance to gain momentum in the marketplace, especially when it is the first attempt to enter the market and the app development team is not very big or experienced enough. There can be some other reasons like the opportunity to develop an app similar a popular one, small project budget, etc.

Guidelines usage can become a solution in such a case since the guidelines help to save time: an interface can be created in a quick and safe manner thanks to standard controls and developers can be sure to have done their work well. That is why today’s interfaces are mainly designed in a “one-size-fits-all” manner. Besides, developers are paid less as they spend less time on project tasks and there will be no budget overrun.

Companies are also afraid of risks they face offering users an app having unique features. A project manager can say “no” to a feature to make risks lower (and not play "online roulette"). As a result, a custom control will not be developed, though custom UI components can provide users with enhanced interactive experience.

Delving Deeper Into Human Behavior

Human factors are something that app developers must bear in mind. Masaaki Kurosu and Kaori Kashimura, Japanese scientists, conducted the experiment that showed that aesthetic aspect is very important. The research showed that interfaces with a beautiful design make users believe that they work better than interfaces which have the same functions and the same number of buttons, but not a very attractive design.

Another scientist, Noam Tractinsky, redid this experiment in Israel to find out whether aesthetic preferences are culturally dependent. His experiment showed even stronger results than the one in Japan. So we can see that there is a direct correlation between a good UI and positive user experience.

Another study supports this idea — it says that positive emotions have a positive effect on people; they broaden the thought processes and facilitate creative thinking, and these emotions can be acquired while dealing with an attractive interface of an app.

Practical Example

Once we developed a sound recording app that can be used by students, businessmen, and anyone who needs to record a speech. Other important functions of this app include marking of important fragments and taking photos directly during audio recording.

We developed two versions of the app. The first one runs on iOS devices, while the second version is designed for the Android platform.

The iOS version did not become popular, while the Android app is used quite regularly. There is one reason why this happened: the team that worked on the iOS version paid very close attention to guidelines provided by the developers of the platform, while the Android team did not keep strictly to the guidelines.

Below you can find a screenshot of the iOS version of the app. You can see that we used colors from the color scheme offered in the guidelines. But this version of the app lacks individuality.

Here is the Android version that is more attractive to users:

Standard fonts were used in both versions of the app: Helvetica Neue in the iOS version:

And Roboto in the Android version:

 

The iOS version has standard controls, bars, action sheets, icons, etc.:


 

But the situation is different when it comes to the Android app where we did not closely follow guidelines provided by Android developers:

The Android app has become popular among users thanks to the fact that we did not comply fully with UI guidelines and it looks much more attractive and offers better user experience than the iOS version where we obeyed all the UI guidelines.

Conclusion

We believe that UI guidelines are not something that app developers must carefully follow. The guidelines are more like recommendations than strict rules that can give a helping hand in developing a great app. However, if you lack experience or have a time limit, keeping to them can become a solution.

If you do not have such limitation, consider developing some custom features. Remember that custom UI can become a courageous step towards making your app distinct from others and appealing to users.

We listed some issues developers of custom UI must pay attention to:

November 1, 2016

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