How to design a mobile app--Brivo SystemsWhat happens when a UI designer, a UX designer, and a front-end developer attend the Smashing Magazine 2015 conference? Best practices for mobile applications and a lot of food for thought.

That’s what Jonathan Healey, Design Director at Brivo, tells me during our conversation about mobile app design and development. I know he’s speaking the truth; he immediately launches into some of the discussion points. He says designing and developing a successful mobile application involves three pieces: performance, design, and cognitive process.


Performance is both about the front-end and back-end. With the first, there’s the user experience.

Do they enjoy the app? Is it easy to use? Does it integrate seamlessly into their lives? How does it make life better or result in increased productivity?

The second is the technical experience. Jonathan says this is a question of designing for other markets.

What happens when a super-slick mobile app for the latest iOS is released but a number of end users are still on the iPhone 4S with iOS7? How do you go about solving that problem?


Design seems a simple subject at first glance. But it’s actually rather complex and includes a whole lot more than a concern with aesthetics. It involves information design, visuals, and ergonomics.

Is information easy to find and access? Is the process intuitive or do users fumble with the navigation?

Are the visual elements pleasing to the eye? Do they correspond with how people traverse apps? How do the visuals change from the web to the tablet and smartphone application? Do they?

Ergonomics is about physical feedback. Do taps and gestures produce the expected result? How does the ergonomics change based on device? Is it easy to leap from one device to another?

Cognitive process

Jonathan refers to Josh Clark’s session “Magical UX and IoT” to speak to this subject. The cognitive process is about maintaining a sense of mystery or “magic.”

Jonathan uses the Brivo OnAir for iOS to illustrate. “How cool is it to be able to unlock a door with your mobile app? Or to watch video surveillance in real time? You can know what’s happening five rooms away from you. It’s like having Harry Potter’s wand. It’s magic.”

The magic factor is how designers and developers know they’re doing something right. Consumers—end users—don’t often care how the app works. They just want to know that it works and does what it’s supposed to.

Achieving that, however, requires a development methodology based on agility and a lean startup mentality. Jonathan says that once an app has been released it’s important to talk with the people who are using it, to read their “suggestions” in the reviews, and to look at analytics.

Designers and developers use that information to improve apps. They aren’t guessing what people want; they know. And they use that information to create more magic, both for themselves and the people they’re serving.

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