In the first app design phase of 2008 to 2012, buttons were glossy and 3D, Apple’s App store had just launched, and gradients were everywhere. Slowly, principles of User Experience, accessibility, and gesture control became widespread, and flat design started to trend. So what’s hot in app design trends, and where are we heading?

It’s all about u: A primer in UX

While we’ve learnt about app design over the years, we’ve also learnt more about ourselves and what we like. We like when things we use:

  • Are intuitive
  • Are easy to learn
  • Make tasks fast and easy to accomplish
  • Are responsive
  • Delight us

These are the principles of Human Centred Design, which encompasses User Experience (UX), User Interface (UI) and ‘Interaction Design’. This all means designing intuitive apps with humans in mind; with fewer gestures, clean aesthetics, infinite scrolling, reduced load times and accessible layouts.

First impressions are 94% design-related.

Examples of this include The Accessibility Project, which is helping designers create apps for the blind and visually impaired, while the likes of Facebook and Medium are pushing to remove the concept of logins and passwords altogether. In the (near) future, Apple Pay will push pin-code verification for online purchases, whilst eye-movement capture could be used to pause videos or control elements without touch. #TheFuture.  😎

The point is to get humans from a to b (or z) as quickly as possible, in order to achieve your app goal as quickly, and with the least amount of friction, as possible. For those questioning the validity of human-centred design, here are some stats to consider:

Just one extra second of dwell time has been known to kill online retail sales by as much as 27%.

  • saw a 15% drop in bounce rate (people leaving their site before viewing content) after installing infinite scrolling
  • 88% of consumers are unlikely to return to a site after a bad experience
  • Slow loading websites cost retailers $2.6 billion US in lost sales annually
  • 85% of adults think that a company’s mobile websites should be as good, or better than, the desktop website
  • 39% of people will stop engaging with a website if images take too long to load

Gestures matter

Still tapping your phone? You’re stuck in the past! App designers want to fully utilise your range of inputs, making gestures like swipes and tilts central to UX. Platforms like Facebook Canvas require tilting for a more immersive experience, whilst 360-degree videos are giving us a more ’rounded’ design experience via movement.

The physical design of our phones plays a part here, too. The increasing size of smart devices benefits the user experience – from greater data visualisation (think scientific calculators) to a rich content interfaces (CNN do this spectacularly well), the added bulk even gives actions a sense of purpose.

Big screens = big possibilities. Phone-based VR products like Google Cardboard and Samsung Gear mean we need to think less about layers and more about environments, as wearables like smartwatches and fitness devices require design to take bodily movements into account also. Haptic tech advancements now listen to not only just where we touch our devices, but the force and drag we do it with.

Visuals matter, too

The glossy arrival of Jony Ive at Apple, alongside Google’s ‘Material Design’ principles have ushered in a slick visual trend built on layers and interactivity. You only need to look to some of the world’s biggest companies to see how ‘Flat’ design principles are becoming prolific in big business. This means clean layouts, eye-catching typography, a soft colour palette, and simple, intuitive navigations. Information, detailed by graphics, is set to be an enormous growth area, with up to 62% of B2C marketing using infographics in the last 12 months, and 75% of B2B content marketers using illustrations in the last year. Want to learn from the best? Try checking out Apple’s official iOS Design Principles Guide.

The future means… No apps at all?

Possibly the biggest trend in app development could be the removal of apps altogether. With the ever-increasing involvement of the cloud and a true over-saturation of the market, apps are being built online to increase accessibility across the board.  It’s estimated in the US, cloud computing value will grow from $43b (2015) to $55b in 2016, with around 78% of small-medium businesses fully adapted to the cloud by 2020. Google’s ‘Instant Apps’ (announced just days ago at their annual i/o event) is kicking off this trend by allowing apps to run instantly, without installing them.

Expect a whole new app arms race.

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Camilla Gulli


Camilla Gulli,

As Editor at Red Wire, Camilla is particularly passionate about diversity in tech, content marketing, social media, and disruptive platforms.