June 5, 2024

The Role of an App Designer: A Comprehensive Guide

The role of mobile design in technology has evolved greatly over the years. With more users relying on their mobile devices, it has become even more important for businesses to hire quality app designers and developers who can build applications that take the user’s needs in mind. In 2024, Statista recorded that over 4.88 billion people owned a smartphone worldwide.

With the pandemic, online shopping habits drastically increased, and they continue to grow post-pandemic. 

Mobile users make up more than 60% of the total global web traffic. This alone is an indicator that businesses are moving towards mobile functionality. Some businesses have even started transitioning to mobile websites that only cater to smartphone users.

Table of Contents

  1. What is mobile app design?
  2. Who is an app designer?
  3. Importance of app designers in the tech industry
  4. Skills needed to be an app designer
  5. Process of app designing 
  6. Tools used by app designers
  7. Challenges faced by app designers
  8. App designer vs. app developer 
  9. Courses and certifications for app designers 

What is mobile app design?

Application design or app design refers to the design, layout, and functionality of the app creation process.

It’s a holistic approach to app design where the focus is not just on creating a visually appealing app but to also make sure it works well, is intuitive for users without any technical hiccups.

Take Subway Surfers, for example. In 2023, it had a reported 218 million downloads. What makes the application great is that designers consistently give users new and interesting themes to maintain their interest. The app also has a very easy-to-use navigation system and allows users to play the game both online and offline.

Who is an app designer?

An app designer is in charge of the ideation and execution of the app creation process. They work on new and existing concepts for the app, including what features will be included, the typography, color palette, layout, navigation, and many other aspects of the design and development process.

The role of an app designer will drastically differ depending on the size of the organization. If you are working in an early-stage startup, you may be responsible for both the UI and UX elements of the app creation process.

Alternatively, if you are working for a large corporation there might a separate design and development team with specialized roles and responsibilities.

Importance of app designers in the tech industry

As a business, it is important to understand the significance of this specialized role. Do we need to hire an app designer specifically to fulfill design-based tasks, or can any designer create an app? The answer to this question is nuanced.

Some designers are skilled in multiple platforms and are able to create just as good of a website as a mobile application because they understand the complexities of each of the platforms they are working on.

But with more and more users relying on their smartphones to make purchases it makes sense for businesses to hire individuals who understand user psychology in design and will create applications that are specifically designed based on users behavior patterns when using mobile applications.

We know now that users who have a bad experience with a website are less likely to return to it. It only makes sense that more businesses need to spend resources on hiring app designers and developers who can create better designed apps.

Imagine creating an app that has a great UI design but shuts down every time a user tries to make a purchase. Will the users simply be satisfied that the app has a great visual design? Probably not.

Good app designers understand that design is a tool to provide a good user experience for their customers. Everything from the color choice to the typography used has to take into consideration a user’s ability to navigate and use the app.

Top skills that employers look for in designers

User interface design (UI)

As an app designer, understanding UI design is an essential skill. Knowing why each design element is incorporated into the interface and how to use important design principles into your app creation process can help you stand out as a designer.

4 basic user design principles to start with:

1. Hierarchy of design 

This is the sequence in which the features or the pages are revealed to the user on the app. The hierarchy of design is created by anticipating how the user will naturally navigate the application. It helps the interface from being cluttered and disorganized. 

2. Consistent design 

Having a design language that is consistent throughout your app is crucial because it gives the users an understanding of who you are as a brand. If the application has a simple interface on the home page and complex layouts as the user progresses throughout the app it can be confusing to the users. Same goes for design elements like color, graphics and typography.

3. Clear Instructions 

If users are given clear instructions on how to navigate the app it makes the process much easier. Knowing how to click buttons, having a clear menubar, intuitive navigation and direct feedback are all elements that reduce doubt in the user’s mind.

4. Accessibility 

Refers to the considerations by the designer of all user’s needs. Many users experience accessibility issues both visual and hearing. Taking into account their needs by having voice assistant, high contrast in content, assistive touch goes a long way in solving accessibility issues and making the app more user friendly.

User experience (UX)

Some app designers are focused on the UI and are not proficient in the entire design and development process of an app. There is great value in understanding the life cycle of an app and how it is developed from start to finish.

In an ideal scenario you may be able to get a role that is completely design focused. But if you are unaware of how to communicate with developers, conduct user research and do market research it might be challenging to create the best designs for your target audience.

Knowing the design and development process also makes it easier for designers to get more opportunities as they are proficient in the entire cycle of the app creation process.

4 basic user experience principles to start with:

1. Usability 

It refers to a user’s ability to use an app with ease. This determines to a large extent a user’s interest in coming back to the app as a customer. When designers and developers are working on building the app the objective is to anticipate what pain points a user can potentially face when navigating the app. 

2. User control 

Giving users the freedom to customize the application based on their preferences. This can refer to many things from the visual background of the app to the content. Providing this makes the users feel seen and gives them the opportunity to move more freely through the app.

3. Navigation 

Navigation is understanding how the users would go through the app in a natural way. Keeping in mind user eye movements and interactions with the screen can be helpful in figuring out where to place the navigation menu.

For instance if you are a food delivery app, having the most popular food items on the home page so users can directly go to the selected food page without searching or scrolling for it is a great way of providing a more efficient user experience.

4. Minimum Learning Needed 

Certain apps require users to go through a learning period to get used to navigating the app and using the features. Some users may not be too bothered with the process but for the majority of users ease of learning is top priority.

If they are unable to figure out how the app works more than likely they will end up switching to a different app. Designers should also take into consideration senior users who are not technologically aware and will look for more direct and clear user interface. 

Proficiency in programming languages 

Having a strong hand in programming can help designers dedicate more time to the design process instead of spending all their time on coding. With the tech industry moving towards platforms that are no code more and more designers are showing interest in the UI/UX field.

Still, It’s good to know specific programming languages so you can work on more complex designs and aren't dependent on a developer while working on projects. It also makes it easier to communicate with the development team if you are aware of the process of building an app.

Programming languages for app designers:

  1. Javascript 
  2. Kotlin
  3. Java
  4. Swift 

Mobile design for Android and Apple users 

Another lesser-known skill is understanding the difference between Android and iOS design. Businesses want to make their apps customizable for both Android and iOS users so that they can maximize their target audience.

Since the UI of each differs greatly, it’s essential to know how to create apps keeping this distinction in mind. For instance, the search query, tabs, and icons are all designed differently in Android vs. iOS phones.

Backend knowledge 

It is the technical side of creating an app. Once you’ve built an app, you also need to make sure the app is running smoothly, there are no bugs or troubleshooting issues, the speed is consistent, and there are no quality issues.

A backend developer usually does all of this. As someone who is designing an app, it is important to know how the back end functions and what issues one needs to expect while designing an application

Prioritizing security and data

Mobile security and data breaches are hurdles that businesses need to consider when creating an app. A leak of a user's personal information can be very detrimental to a business's credibility.

Larger companies hire cybersecurity experts to ensure no data leaks or other unethical practices. App developers must build safe and secure apps that will keep user data protected.

Communication and Teamwork

A large part of a designer’s job is communicating their ideas to the team and important stakeholders. If the idea does not make sense to others, it won’t get executed.

As a designer you often working with people from different teams who are ideating on one concept at the same time. If you are unable to positively take in feedback or incorporate someone else’s idea, it may be challenging to create a cohesive and well-designed product as a team. 

Process of App Designing

So now that we know more about the skills needed to be an app designer, let us dive into the process of creating an app. 

1. Ideating on the app ideas

This is the early stage of the app design process when you are brainstorming ideas with your team, ideally pen to paper. You can even create a low-fidelity prototype on paper to visualize the concept.

You might want to brainstorm new features if you already have an existing app. At this stage, it’s best not to rule out any ideas or have any expectations in mind. Just jot down any ideas that comes to mind. In the later stages, these ideas can then be altered based on the expectations. 

2. Researching the market

Once you have a few ideas in mind, you will select the ones that are most viable for your organization or you as an individual designer and start researching similar products in the market.

What’s the demand for this application? How profitable are companies in the existing market? Are there any gaps in their apps that we can provide for the users? All these questions can be insightful in understanding how to best cater to users. 

3. Finding the target audience

Once you have done the research, and you will have an idea of whether or not your app will be a good fit in the market. Maybe there are already existing players, or this is an innovative concept.

Either way, you must figure out who you are designing this app for. There is no point in moving forward if this question isn’t answered first. With that information you can tailor your design accordingly. Many businesses create a minimum viable product to test for a product market fit before working on creating the actual product.

4. Selecting the best features

When you're working on the app you need to visualize and ideate on what features you want to incorporate into your app design. How these features will function and how the users can be expected to interact with these features.

It is a complex and tedious process that will require reworking and eliminating some unnecessary features. Figure out what animation you want to add to your interface and the what purpose it is serving when the user is on the app.

5. Wireframe and user journey

Wireframing is a cost-effective process of creating the foundation for your app design process. Often times, designers can get distracted focusing on the specific design elements even before they have worked out the framework for the app. A wireframe is like an outline for an app which help designers work on the layout and the important features of the design before moving on the visual aesthetics.

Once designers, have clarity on functioning and the format of the app they can start working on the interactive features and design elements. Tools like Figma and Lucidchart can help you get started on this process. 

6. Prototyping and Testing

A prototype is an early stage version of the final product. By creating a prototype, your team and other stakeholders can assess the product's viability and decide in which direction to move forward with the design process.

A prototype is also your opportunity to work out variations of your design concept. Most designers will create many prototypes before finalizing on the app's design. You can also use the prototype for user testing to find out what the users have to say about the product.

By creating multiple prototypes, you can compare different designs to select the best application. Platforms like Figma allow designers and developers to collaborate simultaneously on the same project so designers can communicate more effectively and developers can instantly make changes on the same project.

7. User Feedback

App designers should do user testing both during and after the release of an app. Some businesses might view it as a cost-heavy endeavor and decide to build an app without proper user feedback.

This means , you have no idea how your users will perceive your app and what challenges they could experience while using it. So when you end up actually releasing the app you have to go back to the drawing board to fix all the problems you could otherwise have worked on using the feedback from the users.

You don’t need to incorporate every single feedback you reecieve but designers should learn to be flexible with their ideas and show empathy and understanding towards their potential customers. 

8. Building the application

Once you have worked on the wireframe and created a prototype you can start communicating your ideas to the development team. This process is all about consistent communication.

When there are many brains involved in a project there can be friction especially if there are opposing perspectives. So, as a designer it is your responsibility to communicate your idea in a positive manner and be open to any feedback or changes.

It is possible that the development team might foresee challenges in the execution of the design you as designer did not recognize. Once you've transfered your files, maintain consistent communication so you can be updated about any changes.

9. Releasing the app

Once all app is developed you will to final check to ensure all the features functioning, there are no technical error and the performance of the app is optimal. Once you have the released the app the work doesn't end.

This is time to find out what your real customers have to say about the app. What worked for them and what didn't and then go back to the research process to work on the current features for the next update.

Tools used by App designers

1. Sketch

2. Marvel

3. Figma

4. Iconjar

5. Invision

6. Asana

Challenges faced by app designers

1. Pushing your creative boundaries 

Designers yearn for their creative space where they can challenge themselves and create designs that are innovative and exciting for their users. The process of creating and designing an app requires taking into account both the creative process and the business value.

If designers have many restrictions during the creative process, it could prevent them from thinking beyond the box and coming up with something creative. Not having a team to collaborate with can also lead to stagnation in ideas because you are the only person involved in the process. 

2. Creating a valuable user experience 

Every designer hopes to create a valuable application for their users. During this process, designers might chase perfection or unconsciously recreate existing designs. Providing a great user experience is a never-ending journey and requires continuous feedback from the users and implementation from the designers. 

The goal should be to try to solve a user’s needs to the best of your abilities and to continue improving the user experience as get better at understanding what your users are looking for and what challenges they are experiencing. 

3. Developing an intuitive navigation system

Sometimes applications can have a great design and a unique platform, but users are unable to access the features that they are looking for. This is a navigational issue as the platform was not created in a way that allows users to use the app intuitively.

The solution to this is to conduct user testing before releasing the app. Certain software provides live data on specific points where users are experiencing difficulty or are spending more time navigating.

You can also get direct feedback through comments and video calls where users can communicate the challenges they faced while navigating the app.

4. Performance of the app

It’s frustrating for users when the app constantly glitches or doesn’t function properly. This is especially difficult if the app is used to purchase a product or service.

Designers and developers working on the application should perform continuous quality checks to maintain the application's speed. They must also ensure that the application is not draining the user's battery. Testing the app prior to release and programming it in an optimized manner can significantly improve its performance and speed.

5. Feedback from users

Designing an app for a target market first requires extensive knowledge of the users. When you are in the process of designing, getting feedback straight from the users can be invaluable.

This process can be extremely time consuming and cause delays in the app development process. Determining what feedback from the users should be implemented can be a challenging task to figure out.

Still, this process is important as you will get real-life evidence of what’s working and what’s not. It’s always better to have a diverse focus group or user testing group so that you are getting different perspectives. 

6. Multi-device functionality

Maintaining functionality on different platforms like smartphones, laptops, and tablets can be a challenging endeavor because different devices have different resolutions, screen sizes, and performance speeds.

Designers may experience difficulty in ensuring that the content is optimized on all devices and has the same quality and functionality. A way to maintain a good user experience is to undergo performance testing on all devices before releasing the app. Have continuous quality checks on all devices and regular updates. 

App designer vs. App developer 

An app designer is responsible for the design and interaction of a mobile app’s interface. Their job is to create interactive and intuitive designs for any user navigating the application. 

An app designer has a strong grasp of design principles and a skilled understanding of user behavior. They know exactly where to place a specific button, what interactive elements will be distracting to the users, and the right font and color contrast to use when creating the interface. 

An app developer brings the app to life. They turn a designer's ideas into reality by using code to develop the app. There are three types of app developers:

  1. Front-end developer - Front-end, in a literal sense, refers to the side of the app that the user interacts with. The designers will provide front-end developers with a wireframe of the interface, based on which they will create a fully functional interface. They work on making an application interactive for the user to operate and navigate. 

  1. Back-end developer - manages the data and functioning of the app. It’s the part of the application that the users have no access or control over. Without the back-end running smoothly, an application can potentially face a lot of issues. Here a back-end developer has to ensure that the speed of the app is maintained, there are no bugs and there are regular quality checks, 

  1. Full stack developer - A full stack developer manages both the front-end and back-end development of the application. They are capable of handling the complete devlopment process of an application.

Some app designers are skilled in both design and development from working in small organizations where one designer is tasked with the entire lifecycle of an app. This allows them the flexibility and autonomy to work on projects without any assistance as they are experienced in both the design and development processes.

While working in a specialized design role can help you sharpen your skills and knowledge in one specific area. It allows you the opportunity to learn how to communicate your ideas and concepts to developers and collaborate successfully in a team environment. 

Courses and Certifications  for App designers 

1. UX Design for Mobile Developers - Udacity

The Udacity course is an 8-lesson crash course for aspiring designers to learn how to design a functioning application. Designers will learn everything from the importance of UX in app design to understanding user-centric design principles. 

After every lesson, you will be given an assignment to test your knowledge and skill level. This course does not require any prior experience. 

Duration: 8 Lessons

Skills: UX design

Instructor: Nazmul Idris and Izabel Grey

Level: Beginner-friendly

2. Complete Web and Mobile Designer: UI/UX, Figma, and more - Udemy

This is a comprehensive course to learn everything you need to know about mobile design. The 352 lessons will guide you through the entire design process right from understanding basic design concepts, to learning how to create logos to using Figma to create wireframes. 

This course provides an inclusive understanding of UI/UX design and prepares aspiring designers for job searching, challenges to anticipate, and tips on unlocking inspiration while designing. 

By the end of this course, you will get a certificate and have designs to add to your portfolio. 

Duration: 352 Lessons  28 hr 14 min

Skills: UI/UX design, Web design, Mobile design, CSS Grid and Variables 

Rating: 4.5

Instructor: Andrei Neagoie and Daniel Schifano

Level: Beginner-friendly

3. Design a Mobile App - Domestika

This intermediate mobile design course will help you brush up on your current design skills. Starting from learning about the differences between UI/UX design, finding the right inspiration during your app design process, and learning how to correctly incorporate feedback into your work. 

The course requires a basic understanding of design to get started. There will be regular assignments to keep track of your progress. 

To join the course, you need to have access to Sketch on your device. 

Duration: 25 Lessons 5 hr 8 min

Skills: User feedback, Application design, Wireframing, UI/UX and Sketch

Instructor: Christian Viscarra

Level: Intermediate 

4. Sketch from A to Z: Become an App Designer - Udemy

This course teaches aspiring designers and illustrators about app design using Sketch as a tool. 

Through this course, designers can expect to gain comprehensive knowledge of how to use Sketch, the difference between good and bad UI/UX design, ways to fast-track the design process and the right tools to get ahead of the game. 

The lessons will be followed by quizzes to gauge your understanding of the material. At the end of the course, you will have the opportunity to design a music player application. 

Duration: 60 Lessons 4 hr 33 min

Skills: Sketch, UI/UX design, and Multi-device design

Instructor: Joseph Angelo Todaro

Level: Beginner-friendly

Rating: 4.8

Businesses need to start investing more in hiring designers who understand user behavior and are passionate about creating new and innovative designs for users. This will give them an opportunity to differentiate themselves from the competition. 

Aspiring designers should take advantage of the growing interest in UI/UX by exploring software and tools for mobile design and creating a portfolio that highlights their understanding of processes that are involved in mobile design both for android and ios users. 

By exploring different fields of design beyond your industry you can gain a deeper understanding of design and begin to think more creatively when working on a project. Getting inspiration from the right places and creating your own design style is a long-term journey filled with trial and error and a continuous loop of feedback. 

So if you are passionate about learning app design and you need to commit to the process of learning and failing. If you would like to learn more about UI/UX design read further.