UX Best Practices for User Retention

The most successful apps give us a reason to come back every day. We return to Facebook and Twitter every day because of the community social media fosters -- for better or worse. When you need to check your bank balance (which, admit it, is most of us daily), you visit the Chase app. But there are plenty of non-essential lifestyle apps we use regularly. What keeps us coming back to the apps we don’t need for survival?

A reported 77% of users stop using an app within the first three days after download. The ultimate goal of any mobile app is having an accessible and rewarding user experience. UX developers know that the best design excites the user or makes a difficult task easier, which is a key factor in retaining users. These best practices will turn your app from a one-time use download to lifestyle.

First Impressions

You want your app to make an impression, while not being too overwhelming. Creating a User Experience that finds a balance is critical. Make sure that the user onboarding is flawless and representative of the experience to come. Onboarding should be as seamless and friendly as possible. You want the user to feel like they are a trusted member of a community, not just another email for a newsletter.

Collecting consumer information during onboarding is a common business goal, but can be difficult. Be sure to set requirements on info fields that are absolutely essential, while allowing the user to skip as many steps as possible for info that is less valuable. If you need to send a verification code, do it over text, not email, to keep users engaged with your interface. Providing a user-friendly interface to eschew with this menial process quickly will give users a positive first impression.

From a design perspective, it is essential to give a brief tutorial that will show off your top design features while easing the user into the feedback loop of UX that you want to create. Give the option for a walkthrough with visual indicators of where to swipe or tap next. A systematic approach where each step answers a question the user may have from the one before. Make it visual. Users tend to withdraw when having to read a whole bunch of text in the first minutes of using a new app.

Create a Feedback Loop

Creating a loop is crucial and the key to keeping users hooked. What is the ultimate purpose of your app? What type of content lives on your app that users can’t live without? Using motion design can give your users the feedback needed to create such a loop.

If a user takes action, motion can be used to reinforce that action. In iOS when you tap and hold an app icon, the widgets become wobbly indicating a change in mode. This shows you can move the icons. The X in the upper-right hand corner of the widgets indicates these apps can be deleted; this is all communicated via motion design to provide visibility of system status.

An excellent example of a negative feedback loop is Apple’s “horizontal shake”. You know, when you enter your password incorrectly on your iPhone and the popup window “shakes” back and forth. This gesture is instantly recognizable and gives the user an immediate understanding of the problem.

The user should know where they are within the app’s flow and how exactly they got there. Each step of the process should be crystal clear, from step A to step Z. Failure to create such a flow will result in a poor UX irritates the user, and will ultimately result in deletion of the app or lack of use.

Tweak or Redesign

While not every aspect of retaining users is UX dependent, there are good strategies to ensure continued growth. Unfortunately, there is no hard and fast rule to determine what needs fixing. Often when building an app from the ground up, it is a smart idea to begin with an MVP (minimum viable product). MVP is a strategy for gaining critical feedback in the early and most crucial stages of product development. The core concept is to get feedback with a stripped down version of your product that reflects the design and business philosophies you are to use.  

Minor tweaks are what it’s all about. Core tenants of your product, especially the ones that are working, must stay consistent. Often, designs that work well do not receive active user feedback; seamlessly integrated interaction design patterns feel natural and should be second nature. Users will let you know what’s not working for them. You just need to ask and listen.

Only implement design changes that do not interfere with the flow of your feedback loop. Users will complain about changes, but given time; users will adjust. Only implement a major redesign if you feel you do not have a sizable enough user base to leave. In extreme cases, it will fix your UX to undergo a complete rebranding in an attempt to soft-reboot your brand.  This approach doesn’t always bode well, but plenty of companies like Target, Harley-Davidson and even Apple have successfully rebranded.