How to Develop and Design an Effective Mobile App
A mobile app is no longer an option. Enterprises who want to survive in today’s digital age have no option but to roll out apps for their customers, employees, and other stakeholders. While app development is easy now, with the proliferation of several user-friendly tools and resources, creating an effective app is still a tough ask.
Get the Basics Right
As the adage goes, “well begun is half done.” Get the basics right. Have clarity on the scope of the app, and perform the requirements gathering. Putting together a specification for your app is a tedious task. Create a mobile app requirements document which is the foundation for a successful product. Fix the development environment, and have the developer accounts in place. Provision for the assets, as in images, videos, and other resources which will populate the app. Have a timeline for the app development process, and stick to it as far as possible.
When fixing the scope of the app, factor in the user requirements, and reconcile the same to the requirements of the app owner, which in most cases translates to enterprise requirements. Also have a thorough understanding of the latest trends and developments in the Android space, to fix expectations, and also to comply. Listing the app in the PlayStore requires strict adherence to Android design guidelines.
It may also be a good idea to evaluate competitor and best-in-class apps, to fix benchmarks and set standards to excel.
Select a Development Approach
The world of app development is highly flexible, with no hard or fast rules. Of the two dominant development approaches – waterfall and agile, the traditional waterfall method takes a methodological and systematic route, whereas the agile methodology facilitates a team-based, flexible, rapid-development approach. The agile method is flexible, but can easily go out of control. The waterfall method is incremental, with one stage irrevocable finalized before proceeding to the next stage. Both methodologies are popular, and which to adopt depends on the nature of the project.
Design the Navigation
The basics of Android development is determining what users of the app may see, and what they can do with the app.
- Have clarity on the data and content to be used in the app.
- Design interactions, which will allow app users to navigate across the different pieces of content and data within the app.
Most apps have an inherent information model that can be expressed as a tree or graph of object types. Software engineers and data architects conjure up the apps information model using entity-relationship diagrams. Complex apps require high-level screen hierarchy and intuitive navigation flow designs, to enable users to traverse the different content seamlessly. Having defined the information model, the next task is to create a screen-list or the set of screens, which will allow app users to interact with the content and data.
Design the User Experience (UX)
A simple screen design consists of various buttons, lists, and detail information. However, most apps require sophisticated designs, with different grouping techniques to manifest the content in an intuitive way, catering to various screen sizes.
The mobile ecosystem is highly fragmented, with varying screen sizes. A responsive screen design, to factor in the basics, is essential.
- Opt for flexible layouts
A flexible layout stretches the within and around components, to adapt to different screen sizes.
Using the “wrap_content” command sets the width or height of the components of a page to the minimum size necessary to fit the content within the available view. The “match_parent” command makes the component expand to match the size of the parent view. Developers may use “LinearLayout” instances in combination with “wrap_content” and “match_parent” sizes, to create complex layouts. RelativeLayout instances enable the layout in terms of the spatial relationships between components, such as aligning one view on the left side and another view on the right side of the screen.
- Use Size Qualifiers
Flexible layout alone will not provide an optimal UX for all screen sizes. Co-opt configuration qualifiers to enable the runtime of the app to select an optimal layout design automatically based on the device’s configuration. For instance, a “two-pane” pattern, with a list of items on one pane, and the content on another pane, may work best for large tablet screens. On the other hand, a single pane is optimal for small-screen smartphones.
Define all possible layouts, and map the correct layout to each configuration. Use configuration qualifiers for the purpose.
- Optimise Images for Responsive Screens
Competent app developers do not ignore the screen density when designing responsive screens.
Supporting different screen sizes requires the image resources to adapt to different sizes as well. For example, a button background must fit any applied button shape.
When the developer uses simple images, the runtime will stretch or shrink the images uniformly. This causes degraded rendering. Nine-patch bitmaps, or specially formatted PNG files, indicating areas which can and cannot be stretched, offers an effective solution.
Deploy the Required Elements
Advanced apps go beyond the basics, and co-opt advanced elements. A case in point is fragments, or a user interface element having its own life-cycle. Different activities which take place in an app can host one or more fragments, and one fragment may easily be replaced by another fragment.
The scope for co-opting different elements and functionality to enhance the app is infinite. However, make sure the transitions are seamless, and the app does not become unwieldy or bloated. The best apps leverage the power of simplicity. Success depends on a smooth and neat interface, ease of use, and quick loading.
Deploy Supporting Resources
The effectiveness of the app development and design depends on the the supporting infrastructure in place. For instance, it is a recommended best practice to create alternative resource folders for images and layouts. Such a resource would help the runtime to load relevant images, depending on the screen density and resolution of the mobile device. If such relevant images are not available to load, then even the best of developer commands will be useless.
The success of any app depends not on the inherent worth of an app, but on how users perceive the app as worthful. A good app design, manifesting in seamless navigation and UX goes a long way in making the app effective and successful.
Girish R, Programmer for 17 yrs, Blogger at Techathlon.com, LifeHacker, DIYer. He loves to write about technology, Open source & gadgets. He currently leads the mobile solutions team at Fingent.