Why less means more for your mobile apps

My favorite app in the entire world does only one thing: get me to my train on time. The app itself is a timetable, so right off the bat you might think of it as “nothing special.” Obviously I disagree. In fact, I think my “little train timetable app that could” is a perfect example of what an app needs to be. If you’re looking into creating a new app for your business, then let me explain.

Traditionally, software has been designed so that we have all possible information, options, customization, and data on our screen simultaneously. This is great when you’re trained on the software and need absolutely every available type of functionality it offers. But if you’re looking at a handheld screen while racing to catch the 7:15 express into town, these traditional designs just don’t work.

If I’m going to make my train, I need to know when it’s leaving, what track it’s leaving from, and how to get from here to there fastest, and I need that information delivered to me at a glance. If my eye is distracted by extra data, like how many other seats on the train are booked or which other trains are departing at similar times, I could end up stranded on the platform. Of course, if I were a train conductor a whole different set of information would take precedence—but I’m getting ahead of myself.

So what makes a good app? In my mind it comes down to just three things:

User-centric design. Before you start to build your app, you need to think of how people are going to use it. Even the biggest of today’s phones have limited space, and your users aren’t going to want to navigate through menu after menu to get to the functionality they need. Think beyond the information your users need and design your app around how they’re going to use it.

Role-specific functionality. Remember my comment earlier about train conductors not needing the same data as passengers? One way to make sure each person has the right information is to tailor the dashboard within the app by role and size of device. While your data doesn’t change, the way your sales team can see and implement it is wildly different than the way your service department does.

You can even go one step farther, like the folks at Delta Airlines, and design separate apps for each role within your team. For Delta this meant a tablet-based dashboard displaying airspeed, weather events, and telemetry for the pilots, and a smartphone with easy access to the POS system and time-to-destination data for the flight staff.

Seamless, simple interface. No matter your role, when you open an app you expect ease of use. Put simply, if your app “just works” you’re in the sweet spot. While the functionality of your apps may differ, the same need not be true for the way people interact with them. Forget designing specific interfaces for personas like salesperson, consumer, parent, child, etc. If navigating your apps isn’t intuitive, you’ll be hard pressed to get your customers and employees to use them. This goes double for cross-app functionality, by the way. Users don’t care what’s making your apps work together, just that they do.

Not every app can be quite as simple as my beloved train timetable, but they should all strive to at least feel that way. For a deeper dive into the world of apps and mobile solutions, check out our cloud and mobile solutions page.