What makes a great app experience?

Tara Powadiuk, Director of Product and Technology at Volvo Cars Canada, draws on her experiences with her own favourite apps to offer insights on great app design. 

A couple of weeks back, I was invited to be the keynote speaker for the Masterclassing Mobile App Workshop. Preparing for the workshop pushed me to spend some time reflecting on what makes for a great app experience and what makes it ‘sticky’?

I started with learning from tech leaders like Google. Google approaches great mobile app design with the tech precision you would expect. According to Google the principles of good mobile app design are building an app that considers app navigation and ease of exploration; in-app search functionality; precision in commerce and conversion; easy registration and form entry; consideration for usability and comprehension; and tools that help you to easily take action. I can see how these principles work across all industries.

Within the auto sector, jdpower.com is a credible leader in benchmarking auto OEMs across digital and within the app space. They focus in on the full customer journey within the app, the functions that the app can perform for your EV vehicles, the controls it provides you at your fingertips, and the overall usability.

Upon reflection of what it takes to make a great app experience, I couldn’t help but think about my own experiences and interactions with the apps on my home screen that I couldn’t live without. These apps are my ‘north star’ when I think about what it means to create a great user experience.

I have to start with my Oura ring app. First, the product itself is valuable to me, because it’s monitoring my health, but the reason I enjoy the app is that it is informative and relevant, personal to me, using algorithms to encourage me to add more steps to my day, improve my health and reminding me when I need to get more sleep.

Second is Wealthsimple. They have taken all the guesswork out of the investing experience, where I can easily navigate and take action. It encourages me to invest through visualization of my portfolio performance, showing me the growth of my investments up until retirement. This app was built with mobile-first thinking, retains my information and is intuitive.

Now, as I was going through the apps that I loved, I thought back fondly to a grocery delivery app that I was beyond loyal to for over a year and, with a house often full of teens, my grocery bills were quite high each week. And then, it happened: “technical error” when I went to checkout. The first time it happened, my love of the convenience and ease and the lovely reminders of “don’t forget your lactose-free yoghurt” before I checked out, brought me back again to order the following week. And again “technical error” and I couldn’t check out. It happened a third time after I even took the time to reload the app so, I had no choice.

I deleted the app.

I’m sharing this because while it is super obvious to all of us, the baseline of being 100 per cent uptime without technical issues is so paramount. This grocery company has lost me as a customer online and I am reluctant to go in store either now, because it has impacted how I feel about the brand overall.

Another thing I find incredibly odd, is when a company invests time and dollars building an app experience that is a complete duplication of the .com experience. Your app experience should provide unique value, enjoyment and convenience that can’t be duplicated with the .com experience. All website experiences should be mobile-optimized, so there is zero value to the consumer to ask them to download an app, and it also leaves you with a poor perception of the brand.

I have a love for great design, including mobile app design. I believe that there are some design principles which should always be considered to encourage ‘stickiness’ and engagement:

  • Provide a seamless experience across platforms; from .com, to in-store to within app. This will ensure ease of use for the customer and allow you to connect with them on their terms.
  • Offer value by providing recommendations, product updates or key notices to keep your brand top of mind and keep customers coming back.
  • Keep it simple and consistent, as this takes the guesswork and frustration out of the overall user experience.

Whatever the industry you are in, a customer who engages with your app regularly is a more loyal customer with a higher likelihood that they will spend more with your brand. A big thank you to Masterclassing, Yodel, Favoured and all the smart brand leaders for a great event and discussion a couple of weeks ago.