Apps are now a mainstream, trusted way to deliver content and services. But in a crowded market, how does a mobile app become useful, relevant, and valued so it delights and retains users? Google's UX Research Lead Jenny Gove details 25 principles for building a great mobile app.

Written by
Jenny Gove
March 2016

Mobile apps: Users can't get enough of them. Want proof? An estimated 200 billion apps are expected to be downloaded in 2017.1 (That's billion with a "b.") Marketers are experimenting with their own app experiences and investing to ensure that they're discovered; they spent around $3 billion (£2.8) on app install advertising in 2015, an increase of 80% from 2014.2

Given this massive shift in consumer behaviour, it is no surprise that marketers are keen to continuously improve the app experiences that they create. Apps provide opportunities to build around user needs and grow long-term and profitable relationships with loyal customers. It's become tougher for developers and brand marketers to get people to find and download their apps, and once they do, stay engaged. As many as 25% of app users open an app once and never return.3


More than ever, people are engaging with their phones in crucial moments and for shorter periods of time. Their experiences need to be efficient and delightful. Plus, a well-designed app that provides utility has the power to cut through the clutter. It can deliver on people's many I-want-to-know, I-want-to-go, I-want-to-buy, and I-want-to-do moments.

As many as 25% of app users open an app once and never return.

We know that following a simple, powerful set of principles helps. That was what we learned from our prior work on mobile site design. It led brands to make changes and remove barriers so they could give their customers truly helpful experiences. As with mobile websites, mobile apps need to help users complete their tasks and make it easy to convert.

With that in mind, we sought to uncover the key ingredients of a great mobile app. We partnered with AnswerLab to conduct a user study of more than 100 people on 100 different apps across a variety of verticals including e-commerce, insurance, travel, food ordering, ticket sales and services, and financial management. (Gaming apps, social networking apps and music services were not included in the study.)

Guide app users seamlessly through task completion


We looked at conversion-focused tasks, such as making a purchase, booking a reservation, and researching plans and prices, among other tasks.

We are excited to share insights to help you build brand engagement by providing guidance on useful and usable functionality—essential for creating an experience that delights. Apps can seamlessly guide users through task completion by providing great e-commerce facilities and integrating effective ordering and payment systems. Ultimately, the creation of an engaging app begins with attention to usability.

Many more useful insights were uncovered by the study. We've collated them to deliver the top 25 across six categories: app navigation and exploration, in-app search, commerce and conversions, registration, form entry, and usability and comprehension. Let’s get started with App Navigation and Exploration.


1 eMarketer “App Downloads Will Double in Next Four Years,” February 3, 2014.
2 eMarketer “App Install Ads Help Marketers Cut Through the Clutter,” July 17, 2015.
3 eMarketer “App Marketing 2015: Fighting for Downloads and Attention in a Crowded Market,” July 2015.