Three tips for an engaging user experience in mobile apps

Leah Blandford is a lead UI/UX designer at Atomic Robot, a digital app agency. She is responsible for creating logical user flows, compelling user layouts, and preparing all design assets for development. Leah has a bachelor’s degree in graphic communication design from the University of Cincinnati.

In our digital world, creating an engaging user experience is the key to success for app developers. But engagement doesn’t come from a hotch-potch of innovative features or a random collection of ideas; it comes from creative, strategic planning and execution.

For instance, consider the case of Spotify’s annual Wrapped feature. At the end of every year, users can see their top songs and artists, favourite playlists, and the number of minutes they’ve listened to music and podcasts in the app. It’s easy for users to get excited about their own usage data, and Spotify does a great job of presenting it in an intriguing and easily sharable format. The result? An engaging user experience rooted in strategy, purpose, and direction.

What engaged users want

When designing a mobile app, your approach should be similar. Focus on personalizing the experience to the user. Keeping users engaged should always be your goal, and there are a few guiding principles to help you do that.

For starters, make your app social. Enabling users to find community in your app — whether by creating shareable content or incorporating messaging features — gives them a reason to stay engaged and return again and again. On that note, also try to provide positive reinforcement when users do engage.

Everyone loves recognition, so consider using welcome messages or daily challenges to create even more rewards as part of the user experience. If in-app content is static, users have fewer reasons to keep coming back. But if in-app content is frequently updated, bite-sized, and dynamic, they’ll be more likely to engage consistently and for a long time to come.

How to increase app engagement

Creating an engaging user experience in an app can feel challenging, but it’s a vital part of any successful product. As you work to drive user engagement and build a platform that users love, follow these three steps:

#1: Define high engagement for your product. Ideal mobile app engagement could mean different things for different products. The number of daily active users is a common starting point, but that isn’t universally useful. If you have a grocery shopping app, for example, not even your biggest fans are going to use it every day. You may need to adjust your measurement of “active” or “engaged” users and instead focus on weekly or biweekly active users or time spent in the app to get an accurate measurement of engagement.

#2: Conduct affinity mapping or trend forecasting. Affinity diagrams highlight the relationships between information, opinions, problems, solutions, and issues by placing them in related groups. Use affinity diagrams to turn research and data into actionable information and help forecast economic, demographic, and social trends relevant to your product. In the pandemic era, your research might show that people will remain wary of large crowds for several years. By using affinity diagrams, you might find that in-app chat features are a better form of fostering community and engagement than sponsoring concerts or events.

#3: Know your audience and its needs. Your audience is made up of different groups with a variety of needs, and your goal is to design for the primary audiences while accommodating the secondary ones. You should know the demographics, goals, pain points, behaviours, and attitudes of your audiences and use them to inform your decisions about the most effective engagement methods. If your audience is passionate about social causes, partnering with a nonprofit might spark a commitment to your brand or app. Regardless of the engagement opportunity you pursue, make sure it’s relevant and valuable.

It’s easy to get caught up in the numbers, but not all apps should aim for the same kind of use rates. If your app is designed to help users break bad habits, for example, you should hope the product would eventually be so successful that people would no longer need to use it. Regardless of the solution you create, put processes in place to accurately track mobile app engagement and help you continuously improve your product — and its user experience.

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