I’ve talked to numerous people regarding the usability of their product. Nearly all of them were entrepreneurs without experience in design.

They often ask for my opinion about their app, and I find a common flaw all of them have.

They’re trying to be too innovative.

 

The Problem

Innovative design is incredibly difficult.

charlie brown sigh

In fact, many companies even use design as their competitive advantage to beat the competition (ex: Mailbox, Apple, Google). But if you don’t have a background in design, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to replicate the same success.

I’m not saying people shouldn’t try to be innovative. I’m saying if you don’t have an intimate knowledge of UI/UX design then you will just end up confusing the crap out of your users.

“Good design is obvious. Great design is transparent.” -Joe Sparano

Technology has come to the point where raw power is no longer enough to make users happy. Design has become more important than ever.

 

The Solution

Build on the shoulders of giants.

People have become accustomed to design patterns used in the most popular apps.

See also: 6 Questions You Absolutely Need To Ask Yourself About Your App

It’s difficult to find an app that isn’t based off of another one. Mailbox was one of the first companies to introduce the concept of swiping your e-mail to archive it. Now this has become the standard in any e-mail app.

To start, don’t be afraid to steal from someone else.

If your app has a similar navigation concept to Instagram, you should start there as your base. If you’re more like Tinder, start there.

Each UI has their own purpose.

Open a spreadsheet and write out the different purposes of each app. See which ones overlap and then study their UI. You’ll see a lot of commonalities.

 

Does it make sense?

Once you’ve found at least three apps whose design drive a similar goal as your own app, gather the elements you want and see if they make sense together.

Use a wireframe program to help draft your the mock-up of your app. I like to use balsamiq, but theres a lot of other alternatives out there.

Once you draw your app out, does using your app make sense?

It’s important to be as open minded as possible while finding the answer to this question. Just because you invested time into creating this design, doesn’t mean it can’t suck.

Often you’ll find by stitching together elements of other apps, you end up creating a crazy Frankenapp. If it feels “clunky” or “odd” remove elements until you find something that works.

 

Put it to the test

You’ve setup your wireframes and you’re happy with it. While it may make sense to you, that certainly doesn’t mean it makes sense to everyone else.

After all, studies have shown the people who are create the product value it 5x more than someone who didn’t invest any time in it.

Go out and introduce your wireframes to people who would be willing to look through them.

A big mistake people do is ask someone what a certain button does. Don’t do that.

Instead, give them a background on what the app is, and then ask them to do a task.

Once you’ve done that, just observe.

If they ask a question, take note of it. That’s a huge flaw. If they press a certain area that’s incorrect ask them why they pressed that button after they’re done.

If you’re not comfortable putting your wireframes in front of people then I would recommend you use Usability hub, Peek, or Testlio for usability testing.
Rinse and repeat

Reiterate on your wireframes after you’ve received enough information from your interviews.

When you reach a point where people can navigate through your app without making major mistakes or asking obvious questions, there’s a good chance your app will survive in the real world as well.

 

Conclusion

Design is more important than ever. However trying to be innovative should be left for the professionals.

Unless an innovative design is the competitive edge your product has on its competitors, you should just copy designs from other apps.

Here are the simple steps you can take to build an app with a solid design:

1. Study other popular app designs.
2. Take elements you like and group them.
3. Create a wireframe of these elements and see if they make sense.
4. Put them in front of people in person and watch them use it.
5. Rinse and repeat.

 

This is the process I take whenever I come up with designs for other apps. I’m not a designer by any measure, so I thought this could help others in the same situation. What methods do you use to create a new design for your product? Put them in the comments below or tweet them at @willietran_.