What is a Design Phase?
Generally speaking, app development can be segmented into several different stages. The number of steps in the app development process will vary, depending on who you ask and how you group various tasks.
With that said, every “mobile app development stages” list you find will have a design phase.
Your app’s design will play a crucial role in its success, which is why it’s so important to allocate enough time, resources, and effort to designing your app. If you rush through the design phase, the final product will undoubtedly suffer.
It recently dawned on me that most people interested in developing an app don’t really understand how the design phase works, which is what inspired me to write this guide.
As you continue below, you’ll learn more about what the design phase entails and why it’s so crucial to your development project. We’ll also dive into design guidelines solutions that you can leverage as a bundled service, along with other aspects of development. Let’s get started!
Pre Design Stages
Before we jump into the app design phase itself, it’s important for you to understand some of the other key steps in the app development lifecycle. There are three stages that I’ll quickly cover in greater detail below—competitive analysis, system architecture, and wireframing.
Each of these elements will ultimately be linked to the design (even though they technically aren’t included in the design stage).
To have a stunning and functional app design, you need to get these right first.
Like any business venture, the first thing you need to do is identify your top competitors. By analyzing the big players in this space, it makes it much easier for you to know what makes an app successful in your industry.
Follow the apps that have paved the way by mirroring proven practices. You can also find vulnerabilities from your competition and use this information to improve in areas where they lack.
For example, let’s say you wanted to make a fitness app—specifically designed for wearables. Running a quick market share analysis in this industry would be the first step.
Rather than blindly designing an app from scratch, you can take some of the top elements of existing apps and incorporate them into your design. Your app will still be unique, but it’s definitely smart to use existing apps from industry leaders as inspiration for the design of your own app.
Look at the home screen of each one. Analyze the UI design and UX design.
Ultimately, you can use bits and pieces of each one to create a design that blows all of them out of the water.
Where do you find any friction or pain points within your competitors’ apps? Make sure to avoid those mistakes and improve in these areas when designing your own.
This stage is often overlooked in the app development process. But taking the time to understand your system ensures that you can grow your business without outgrowing your app.
The best apps are scalable, reliable, and secure—but also achieve your goals.
Without a system architecture analysis, something will eventually get lost in the shuffle. So make sure you understand the various entities of your system. Figure out the different data flows between each entity as well.
What workflows will be required for each process? Do you need third-party integrations? What are the technical requirements on the backend?
Create a functional spec sheet that details all of the data flows and flow charts. This information can ultimately be handed off to your design team. A designer will need to understand your system architecture to create a design that makes sense for your specific app and its goals.
Your wireframe will be another crucial tool for your app’s design. Anyone can create a wireframe—you don’t need to be a designer to accomplish this.
Think of your wireframe as a rough sketch of your app’s usability. These can be super informal. I’ve even seen some wireframes sketched on napkins or pieces of paper, although most people today will create a digital version.
A wireframe is a vision of your app from screen to screen. What will the user journey look like as they go from the homepage to an interior page of your app?
Let’s continue with the example of a fitness app. Here’s what a section of your wireframe could look like:
From the “My Workouts” page, users can navigate to a “Chest & Back” page. Within the “Chest & Back Page,” there will be a link to specific workouts such as “Bench Press” that would open in a new page altogether.
Again, you’re not actually writing these workouts or composing the page elements. The idea here is to just focus on the user journey.
It’s much easier to figure out the wireframe ahead of time. These blueprints can easily be modified before the design and development stages officially begin.
Wireframes can eventually be used to perform a click-through analysis. This step ensures that your users can navigate throughout your app with the least amount of friction, ultimately boosting the UX.
Design Phase For Mobile App Development
All of the steps we covered above are critical for the design of your app. Once those stages have been completed, you can use that information for the design phase.
Here’s a brief overview of what should be accomplished during the design stage of your app:
You should always start your design phase with a mood board. These design tools are the best way to evoke particular styles or concepts of your app. Mood boards are commonly used in various fields, including fashion, interior design, web design, material design, and graphic design.
A mood board can establish a strong foundation or starting point for your design. It will ultimately get you and your designer on the same page.
Mood boards will also clarify the vision for your app’s design and make it easy for multiple people and stakeholders to work collaboratively.
Let’s say you are planning to launch an app with a partner. How can you and this partner convey your ideas for something intangible (like a design)? Mood boards ease the design process.
Check out these snippets of different app styles:
It’s clear that all three of these are unique.
One is light and airy. Another is dark and modern. Conveying these styles to a designer verbally would be challenging. But showing a mood board with different theme elements to a designer has a more impactful effect.
It also reduces the chances that you’ll have to go back and forth with the designer multiple times for design changes. This is inefficient, extends your app development timeline, and ultimately adds to the cost of your app.
While the two go hand-in-hand, color palettes and mood boards are not the same things. Your mood board will be used to convey the look and feel of your app’s design, but the color palette is necessary to ensure consistent and coherent branding throughout your app.
The color palette should include your brand colors, primary color, a secondary color, warning color, success color, text color, icon color, and more.
Here’s an example showcasing color palettes for different brands:
Make sure the colors you choose aren’t too contrasting. They should complement each other well and look visually appealing on the screen together.
For example, yellow text on an orange icon would not be a good color palette choice. While orange and yellow are two colors that would typically fall within the same palette, combining them like this would be a nightmare for users. It would be a strain on their eyes to try and read yellow text on an orange background. So make sure you keep this in mind as you’re choosing the color scheme for your app.
The design of your app will vary from device to device. You need to understand how different screen sizes and device types impact the way your app looks on the screen.
What will the design look like on an Apple iPhone 6 Plus (iOS) compared to a Samsung Galaxy Note 20 (Android)? How will the design change from an Android tablet to an iPad mini?
Android apps will have different designs than iOS apps available on the Apple App Store. But you need to also think beyond iOS vs. Android or mobile phone vs. mobile web. There will even be design differences for devices using the same OS.
The colors, mood, and on-screen elements will essentially remain the same from device to device. There will just be subtle variations in the design depending on the screen size, OS, and device manufacturer.
It’s worth noting that strategic consulting isn’t something that comes standard with most app designers. You’ll need to find a design team with a vested interest in your success to get this benefit.
For example, let’s say you try to hire a designer on a platform like Upwork or Fiverr. Those UX designers get paid to do a job, then move on to the next project. They won’t really have too much thought or input in the project beyond what you tell them to do.
But a strategic partner challenges your ideas and offers alternative solutions, resources, and design tools. They’ll help identify any vulnerabilities in your idea and design as well, including UI/UX.
Strategic consultancy services help separate average and ordinary apps from highly successful apps.
High Fidelity Mockups and Prototyping
Before you develop the final version of your app, you need to create high fidelity mockups and prototypes. Live prototypes will provide you with an accurate representation of how your app will perform once it’s completely built.
You’ll have a deeper understanding of the app’s design, functionality, and usability during this stage of the development and design process.
Mockups and prototypes essentially combine your wireframes with the design phase.
The prototype will be the first step towards creating an MVP (minimum viable product). You’ll be able to click through different screens and components of your app from a web-based interface while seeing the design first-hand. This is crucial for UI/UX abd interaction design as well.
BuildFire App Launch Kit (Getting the Design Right)
As you can see, there’s a LOT that goes into designing an app. This process can be extremely overwhelming, especially if you’ve never done this before.
Rather than trying to tackle something so daunting on your own, you can partner with an expert design and development team to assist you. Here’s an overview of what you can expect when you use BuildFire’s white-glove services and app launch kit.
This package allows you to manifest your ideas so you can better share them with key customers, partners, and even investors. Your app will be designed with world-class standards, to not only meet your expectations but exceed them.
We’ll pair you up with a team of highly skilled individuals comprised of a project manager, designer, lead engineer, quality assurance manager, and software developer.
The project manager (based in San Diego, CA) will be your point of contact to ensure you have full visibility into the process and progress of the architecture and design of your app. The designer will bring your ideas to life through a beautiful user interface and a seamless user experience.
A senior software engineer will handle all aspects of the application that require security, scalability, and reliability. They’ll even handle potential compliance with federal and local laws.
Once you’ve been paired with the perfect team, we’ll go through a system analysis to dissect the process, procedures, and workflows of your application. This gives us a full understanding of the ideas you’re trying to implement. Our strategic consultants will challenge your ideas to make sure your app is robust and resilient to any future market challenges.
Next, we’ll go through a competitive analysis. We take the system that we now understand and look at the market landscape.
This allows us to be inspired by proven practices and raise the bar so that you can be a leader in your industry.
Once we fully understand the functional requirements of your app and understand the competitive landscape that we’re up against, it’s up to our designers to come up with a beautiful user interface and seamless UX through clickable prototypes and user journeys.
After a world-class experience has been established for the app users, we then set our eyes toward the backend control panel. Our team works diligently to provide you with the tools required to manage your mobile application. We also provide you with the resources needed to understand your user behavior and app insights.
All of this will be built on top of Buildfire’s cutting edge infrastructure.
This allows you to take advantage of our authentication services, databases, analytics servers, push notifications, and so much more—so you won’t have to incur any additional costs.
Once we meet and beat your expectations, we’ll deliver all of the documentation that we’ve compiled, alongside a clickable prototype for you to share with partners and investors.
As a final step, we break down your project into phases and milestones that provide you with a go-to-market strategy focusing on performance and agility.
Mobile app design can be complicated, but it doesn’t have to be.
To nail the design of your app, make sure you follow the design guidelines explained in this article. Rather than trying to tackle this on your own, contact our team here at BuildFire. We can handle all of the design elements, and more, while providing consultancy services for your app as well.
Our mobile app designers and app developers will double as strategic partners for your app development project. It’s time to take your design to the next level. Let’s build something great together!