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4 common UX mistakes in brand apps (and how to fix them)

A flawless user experience is a fairytale. Users’ needs are always in flux, and there’s a constant push and pull between mobile designers as to which type of design is best. Yet the UX has the power to make or break a brand’s app.

Brands have to consider design, content, performance, and overall usability when building apps to ensure users have the best possible experience. However, it seems like the UX gets compromised in the process. Add in a marketing team that confuses buyer personas with behavioral personas, and you’re left with a negotiated UX.

This negotiated UX is often a company’s best attempt at optimization; it’s simply what remains after everyone’s opinions have been implemented. The impact of subpar experiences extends beyond disgruntled users and can result in dramatic revenue loss.

For example, a hospital client I worked with had 100,000 patients visit its app to pay medical bills. However, one in three patients weren’t successful in paying the bill. With an average bill of US$50, the hospital network lost up to $1.67 million in daily revenue from the app, increased its call center volume, and caused a 12-day aging average for unpaid bills. A more efficient and positive app UX would’ve eliminated this loss or delay in revenue for the hospital.

Brands’ biggest UX mistakes

When it comes to building new apps, I’ve seen brands repeat the same mistakes. To ensure people are engaged on mobile apps, brands must understand the needs and thoughts of their specific audience. They must know the context in which the app is used. If you’re considering launching a new branded app, here are a few of the biggest UX mistakes to avoid:

1. Design overload

Design overload happens when a designer tries to design the most obscure, unusable user interface just to be different or edgy. (I also call this “designer big head syndrome.”) There’s a balance. Designers should always create with the user in mind, and what they create must be visually appealing.

2. A lack of early usability testing

Often, brands don’t consult users early in the app development process, but this is a must. Get your customers involved early on, and work with at least five customers and five prospects to give you feedback before you start building your app. By testing usability early on, you’ll save yourself the hassle of constant redesigns and updates after the app has launched.

3. Too much content

Because apps are designed to be used for short amounts of time, it’s important to make brevity a priority when developing written content. Plus, too much written content will visually clutter your app. Be sure to get your message across in five to seven words.

4. Slow performance and technical errors

There are two things app users will not tolerate: slow performance and excessive technical errors. Your app should be speedy, and people should be able to use it without the platform shutting down. They also need to be able to use the app in the way they’re accustomed to using it. If you’re releasing a new version of your app, regression testing is essential.

Avoiding these mistakes means understanding the needs of the user. That requires a lot of research and testing, so be prepared to invest time in learning more about your users before building an app.

Test, study, and test again

Some companies only use A/B testing to measure improved performance, and they get frustrated when they don’t understand the “why” behind the success or failure. Instead, use these studies to allow you to identify areas for improvement: monthly usability tests, quarterly benchmarking studies, true intent studies, and competitive analyses.

At least once per month, run a usability test with a minimum of five people. Ask them what they believe works well and where gaps exist. Take the results and run quarterly benchmarking studies to compare results longitudinally.

In addition to usability tests, conduct quarterly true intent studies. A true intent study intercepts app users upon arrival and asks them to participate in short two- or three-minute studies. Participants who opt in are asked about their primary intent for visiting the app and current brand perception. Then, at the end of their visit, they’re asked to rate the app on a few key metrics. These metrics should include ease of use, efficiency, overall satisfaction, likelihood to recommend and return, top frustrations, suggestions, and post-experience brand perception.

Once you’ve collected the data from usability tests and true intent studies, run a competitive analysis with your top competitors to see how you’re performing within your market.

Putting time and effort into developing the best possible UX for your app will drive revenue, boost your brand’s perception, and increase customers’ overall satisfaction. The key to successfully developing a great UX is a lot of research and testing before you begin building your app.

What will your research and testing unveil about your mobile customers?

Author | Ania Rodriguez

Ania Rodriguez
Ania Rodriguez has advised Fortune 1000 companies on user interface design, product design, and user research for nearly two decades. Her company, Key Lime Interactive, masterminds all things usability for web, mobile, tablet, and medical devices, using both qualitative and quantitative research methods. In March, Ania earned an Enterprising... More


  1. Joe

    May 23, 2015 at 8:34 pm

    Great article – I agree with all of those points. For me, multi-variant testing is crucial. Test early, and test often. A lot of your usability flaws can be identified and subsequently addressed, as early as the wireframing stage. That said, in my experience, one of the biggest challenges Mobile UX Designers and Architects alike face, when working for larger brands, is the internal politics within the business. Personally, I’ve found senior business stakeholders often form their own opinions on how an app should be designed and function (without necessarily backing it up with hard evidence or facts), and occasionally even go against the results of user testing and feedback. Whilst we do our utmost best to fight for our users, unfortunately, we don’t always win that battle and it is they who often end up suffering as a result.

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  3. Ross Hall

    June 1, 2015 at 1:40 pm

    The biggest issue I’ve seen is a complete lack of focus. This usually manifests itself as someone building an app because everyone else is doing it, it looks good on a CV or someone said “let’s do it”.

    Rather than sit back at the start of the process and ask “what problem is the user trying to solve that we might help them with via an app” everyone dives in and adds features and “things the user must do”. End result: a confusing mess so bad everyone disowns it.

    (I’m not joking: a couple of organisations I’ve worked with have rebranded their apps to remove all reference to their businesses just to avoid embarrassment!)

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