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Why UX Research is Critical to Mobile App Success

Why UX Research is Critical to Mobile App Success


The saying, “there’s an app for that,” really isn’t much of an exaggeration.
There are over 5 million apps on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store, and thousands more are released daily. With so many apps to choose from, consumers will only use ones that add value to their everyday lives. So how can you ensure your mobile app meets your users’ needs and provides real value? This is the mission-critical question that needs answering when developing a mobile app, and UX research plays a key role.

What Makes A Successful Mobile App

Ease of Use

Successful apps must be easy to use, but easy to use means different things to different people. This is why UX research is critical; it helps you understand how your various customers want to use your app so that you can design with their needs in mind.

“Easy to use” seems like a simple thing to achieve when developing, but often UX research uncovers numerous aspects of an app that are confusing or frustrating for users. That’s why research is so critical to designing and developing a successful app.

Deliver Value

An app should offer some value above and beyond what a website (or whatever your current product delivery method is) could, whether it’s additional features, push notifications, or convenience. Remember, when creating a mobile app, you’re asking your customers to install something that takes up memory on their device, so consider how it will add value to their user experience.

Ask yourself and your team, “does this need to be a stand-alone application?” For example, when restaurants started to reopen after the pandemic, most got rid of paper menus and replaced them with QR codes or mobile apps. Each time you went out to eat, you were required to download a different app to order your meal. Since these apps were developed in a matter of weeks and on shoestring budgets, they ended up being clunky and difficult to use. This is a perfect example of apps not delivering value because a website could have provided all the needed functionality.

Had any of these restaurants conducted UX research before releasing their apps, they would have realized the annoyances experienced by customers when dining at their restaurants. UX research would have resolved these issues before causing frustration for customers.

Stay Focused

Creating an endless list of features is an easy mistake to make, especially at the beginning phases of developing a new mobile app. When designing your app, stick to features that are must-haves and that align with the value proposition. New features can be released periodically based on user feedback as the app matures, so there is no rush to develop every idea from the beginning. Keeping your features focused will also reduce development costs and time to market.

Continuous Feedback

There is always room for improvement. If customers can easily submit feedback about the app to your development team, it will help ensure your team has the data they need to iterate and improve. Providing a method for feedback also empowers customers to feel heard and valued.

In addition to looking at reviews and in-app feedback, mobile app teams should continuously “listen” and conduct UX research to keep up with customers’ changing needs and expectations.

Common Research Topics

There are four major categories that should be taken into consideration when designing a mobile app. Collecting sufficient information in each of the below areas will help guide your strategy and facilitate a successful launch.

Target Audience

Your target audience should be at the forefront of all major decisions. Knowing what your target audience wants and needs from your mobile app is critical. The target audience you’re researching should align with your existing customer base. If you don’t have customers yet, you can get started by doing some background research on whom you think your target audience is and then test your app with that group.

You will want to understand your target audience’s app usage behavior, similar apps they use, which apps they like (and don’t like), and the main goals and obstacles faced when interacting with your app. This information will guide your development and design strategies.


With so many mobile apps available, you will likely have a handful of competitors with similar apps to yours. Collecting competitive intelligence, even if only basic information, will help you form a better development strategy. Some things to look for in a competitive analysis are:

  • Key features
  • Business model
  • Reviews of the app
  • Number of downloads
  • General UX/UI of the app

Investigating the above bullet points will give you a good starting point for creating a competitive analysis. Then, you can identify gaps or problems with competitor apps so you can be sure to avoid making the same mistakes they did.

The industry and purpose of your app play a considerable role in how you develop and market it. Knowing what’s happening in your industry will help guide the in-app copy, design elements, and features.

A user experience team using a whiteboard with post it notes to design a mobile app

Users want to use apps that feel up-to-date and modern, so researching the latest UX/UI trends will help you differentiate from the competition and release an app that is ahead of the curve.

Some current trends include

  • Frictionless Authentication: Users want to log in to apps quickly and easily. Using biometric login and social or email sign-in for apps makes the login experience painless for users and eliminates the need to remember yet another password.
  • Voice User Interface (VUI): With the rise in popularity of voice assistants like Siri and Alexa, users want to be able to interact with apps via voice. Integrating some voice commands, especially for the most used features, gives customers a more seamless experience.
  • Personalization: Allowing users to control their in-app experience will encourage continued use. Personalization comes in many forms, from notification preferences to purchase recommendations. Personalization is becoming easier to incorporate with the increased use of AI and machine learning.

Business Model

Choosing a business model for your app is critical to its adoption and longevity. Some popular business models include:

  • Freemium: It’s human nature to like free things. Using a freemium model allows users to experience your app risk-free and only pay if there are features they want access to behind a paywall.
  • Subscription: This business model has been gaining traction in recent years. Subscriptions can be monthly or annual and give users access to the app during the length of their paid subscription.
  • Advertisements: Apps often include ads to generate income. Ads allow certain apps to be free for users while still generating revenue. Sometimes, apps will give the option to pay to remove ads.
  • Paid: One of the simplest business models is one upfront payment for the app. However, both popular app stores, Apple App Store and Google Play Store charge a commission on paid apps. This business model should be chosen only after conducting market research and pricing analysis.

3 Reasons UX Research Is Critical

Designing With Empathy

Empathetic design comes from designers and developers understanding their users’ underlying and unmet needs. These needs can be surfaced through observational user research and interviews. Popular observational methods include diary studies and digital ethnography. Creating a user experience that addresses the unstated or unmet needs unearthed during your research will help make user experiences frictionless and engaging.

Eliminating Obstacles for Users

Conducting user testing will immediately uncover obstacles faced by users. Maybe there is a problem with the navigation in the app, or the verbiage doesn’t quite make sense. Whatever the issue is, user experience research is the best way to uncover and fix these problems before launching your app.

Creating A Fun and Easy to Use Experience

Users don’t want to put much effort into learning how to use your app. Features should be intuitive and aimed at helping users achieve their purpose for using the app. Making their experience fun and intuitive will ensure they come back.

Final Thoughts

User experience research is not optional when developing a mobile app in today’s market. There are too many apps to choose from, and users have high expectations for design quality and functionality. To ensure your app is successful and remains successful, you need to conduct upfront and continuous user research.