Expert Interview Series: Matt Mayer on Better App Design for Glance

4 min read
Aug 23, 2017

It’s never been easier to design an app, says Matt Mayer, founder of Reign Design, but it’s never been harder to design a successful app.

There are plenty of free, useful resources – prototyping, tools, templates, programming tutorials, etc. – so just about anyone can learn to make an app.

“However, too many businesses rush into making an app without really thinking through their goals,” Matt says. “If you launch an app to the App Store without any kind of business plan, the app will disappear without a trace.”

Fortunately, we recently checked in with Matt to get his advice on designing apps that won’t disappear without a trace. Here’s what he had to say about what types of apps are popular right now and where to start when building your winning app:

Tell us about Reign Design. What services do you offer?

Reign Design is a multicultural software design agency. We specialize in the design and development of mobile applications for Android and iOS phones and tablets. We help every kind of business from startups right up to our brand-name clients like Porsche, WeightWatchers and Standard Chartered. We have in-house consulting, design, development, quality assurance, and marketing and do not outsource. We can help at every stage from ideation to delivery. We started in Shanghai, China eight years ago, and we’ve now grown to have three offices in Shanghai; Barcelona, Spain; and Santiago, Chile.

What tools should business owners be using to build their own apps?

Having a good prototyping tool is really important – ideally one that will let you put the designs on a device. Once it comes time to build the app “for real,” we recommend sticking with the Apple- and Google-recommended development tools: XCode and Android Studio. It’s the best way to build native apps that work well on each platform.

What are some basic skills a novice app designer should have?

On the design side, a lot of app development studios are using Sketch for mockups. It has a very easy learning curve and it’s easier for developers than using Illustrator or Photoshop. On the development side, Swift is becoming the dominant language for iOS, while Java still reigns on Android.

What seem to be the most in-demand types of apps right now?

We’re seeing a lot of growth in line-of-business apps. A company is not going to make money selling apps at 99 cents each. But what if a company with 1,000 staff can use an app to speed up an internal process and save every member of the staff 15 minutes every day? 

It's never been easier to design an app.Click To Tweet

The ubiquity of mobile devices is making transactions mobile which previously would have happened offline or on the desktop. We’re also seeing an interesting trend in China where WeChat, a messaging app, is becoming the dominant way in which people interact with shops, banks and businesses via a conversational UI. So if you’re making an app in China, integration with WeChat can be critical.

Where should businesses start when developing an app? What are the earliest considerations we need to make or questions we should ask?

At Reign Design, we follow a user-centered design approach, and I’d encourage business owners to do likewise. Start by talking to the people who will use the app, like customers and clients. Understand their needs and pain points. Use this feedback to start drafting up a list of things you would like the app do to. Now, cut that list in half. And in half again. It’s best to have the first version of your app do one thing, and do one thing well.

What do you think are the most common mistakes or oversights brands make early on in the process of developing an app?

Building an app based on what the CEO thinks looks cool, rather than an app that solves their own customers’ needs. Making an “X for Y” app (it’s like AirBNB, for students! It’s like Uber, for pets!)

What elements do you think are important that most, if not all, apps include today?

Apps should work well on slow or intermittent connections. You’ll see that many apps perform poorly in this scenario, perhaps because so many are designed in Silicon Valley, where everyone has a super-fast mobile broadband connection. Take those apps to the rest of the world and you’ll see how frustrating it can be!

Additionally, users expect apps to follow the platform conventions. It’s always obvious when a company has tried to make a one-size-fits-all approach to their iOS and Android apps. By following the Human Interface Guidelines for iOS and Material Design guidelines for Android, developers can make an app which feels right on each platform.

What app development headlines or innovations are you following right now?

Native watchOS apps for Apple Watch are an interesting one. The Apple Watch has been out for a few months, but I think it’s clear that the app selection has been rather disappointing so far. We’re still waiting for the “killer app” on wearables.

We’re also interested to see how the new permissions system in Android Marshmallow works out. Android is adopting a simplified permissions system, which will allow you to install an app without needing to agree to a long list of permissions at startup.

Finally, on the business side, Amazon’s new Amazon Underground service is interesting. They are making paid apps available for free to consumers, while repaying app developers based on usage (minutes used).

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