Insights from a pro about building successful mobile apps

A few days ago, I had the pleasure of hearing Ms SC Moatti speak about her new book (which isn’t out yet, and I wasn’t lucky enough to snag a copy in the post-talk raffle) “Mobilized: An Insider’s Guide to the Business and Future of Connected Technology.” In the talk, she chose to focus on three rules for successful mobile products, which she said is only a part of her book. I found her principles to be extremely helpful when designing mobile apps or even just new features.

The Mobile Formula: three rules of successful mobile products

The Mobile Formula: three rules of successful mobile products

Ms Moatti’s “mobile formula” has three elements, meant to reflect other, less technical, aspects of life: mind, body and spirit. How do these metaphysical principles apply to mobile applications? In the mobile world, these are learning,  beauty and meaning.

Ms Moatti started with beauty, which I found to be the most practical of the three principles, and divided it into two groups: efficiency and emotion. The app’s efficiency includes features that motivate users focus on the app and not be distracted (which is so very easy to be on a phone.) These are the areas that apps need to get right:

  • Onboarding: make sure it is not too long, get users going in as few steps as possible. No lengthy sign-in.
  • Single task: what is the one thing users need to do in order to have a successful experience? Said another way: what is one task that users can start and complete right away that can show them the benefits of using the app. For example, Pandora realized that creating just one station is enough to get users to understand Pandora so users are led to create one. For Facebook, connecting with just 20 friends is enough to be delighted by the newsfeed, so the first task new users are asked to complete is to connect.
  • Navigation: focus on 3-5 important tasks only.
  • Performance: it’s a must. Fast, smooth and never crashes (of course!)
  • Gestures: a bit of a wild card according to Ms Moatti because sometimes new gestures work and create delight, such as Instagram’s double tap to like and Tinder’s swipes. However, more often users have a hard time discovering the new gestures and it’s easier for new apps to use simple and stand gestures.

Aside from the “focusing”/efficiency elements, designing for beauty also includes what Ms Moatti calls the “expanding”/emotional elements. These can be in two categories:

  • The Pull: pulling context from other apps and products to create value for the user, such as using existing contacts to create a social graph quickly. These are done with permissions, which should be used sparingly and requested at the right moment. What is the right moment? If a permission is integral to the operation of the app, and it cannot function without it, then at startup. If it isn’t, and is only required for a side-feature, then request it only when necessary.
  • The Push: notifications that provide new points of access to the app and additional value to users. Ms Moatti surprised me by saying that users generally like notifications and are willing to receive more of them, if they provide value.

After beauty Ms Moatti went on to introduce her second rule: spirit. The app’s content or service it provides has to have some sort of meaning to the user. If I understood this correctly, there are different filters users use to process information. There are internal filters, that personalize the app to the user’s location and their social connections, and there are filters that are community focused, such as popularity as reflected by likes and rankings. It is this personalization that provides meaning to the user.

This seems to me akin to Nir Eyal’s Hooked model, where in the “reward” stage, the app/service rewards users for taking the actions the designers want them to. The rewards are given in a “currency” the users value, one of which Mr Eyal calls “Rewards of the Tribe,” which are reflections of an increase in social standing, such as more followers or likes.

Ms Moatti’s third rule, mind, is about learning and how an app adapts, learns and becomes better at what it does right. It requires listening to users to see what part of the app they use and which impacts their lives, and finding ways to increase that impact. This doesn’t have to be life-changing. It can mean shortening a purchase decision by providing recommendations, or more efficient tools to promote sharing, but an app needs to constantly change and adapt to its user’s needs.

What I found when writing this post is that I’m hoping the book will provide more clarity for the spirit and mind rules. Ms Moatti said several times that she intended her rules to be more “guiding principles” than “strict framework” but I find that her rules for making an app “beautiful” much easier to follow than those to make an app give users meaning or learn from users.

Ms Moatti summed up her talk by challenging us to look at successful mobile products that we think are great and find one that isn’t beautiful, personalized and changing. She definitely has a point.


One thought on “Insights from a pro about building successful mobile apps

  1. Pingback: Overlays in apps – defining best practices | What it all boils down to

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