What good is a better mobile app (mousetrap) if your UI (packaging) is bad?

Steven Brykman | July 29, 2015 | Mobile Strategy

When it comes to building user-trust and ensuring your product appears immediately usable, and professional, intuitive, up-to-date design is crucial. As we’ll soon see, poor design can mean the difference between being a market leader and going unnoticed.

SaintFrancisConsider these two hospital apps, an industry where trustworthiness is a major factor when it comes to user adoption. The first app, St. Francis Hospital, is kitschy, relies heavily on skeuomorphic buttons and clearly hasn’t been updated for awhile. As you might expect, this app has received zero user reviews, despite having been released in March, 2011. Not surprising given the amateurish design.

Now, notice that while the St. Francis app may in fact be more advanced in terms of functionality, the University of Colorado Health App is much cleaner and streamlined, and as a result far more professional in UColoradoHealthappearance. As a result they enjoy 5-star ratings in iTunes.

Despite the advanced feature set of the St. Francis app, users are much more likely to have faith in the latter app over the former. Features like ER-Sign-Up and Wait Time—that require some degree of integration—appear indistinguishable from something one might find in an app for toddlers. Do I trust the ER Wait Time is accurate when the application looks like it was built by my kid? In short, this app design needs to grow-up and start taking itself seriously.

21But maybe you consider the look of the U of Colorado app too clinical (sorry). Well, you have a point. A health clinic’s app should emphasize what it’s all about—people, not text. The Cleveland Clinic Today app, then, does a wonderful job of bridging the gap between cutesy and clinical, opting for a warm, friendly Instagram-style approach that looks both professional and current but which emphasizes large images of people, places, and faces over text on both their landing (“Today”) and Appointments sections. The iTunes reviews—predominantly 5-stars—reflect the appreciation users have for the vibrant design.

build-a-better-mousetrapNow consider for a moment the packaging on these mousetraps. This may at first seem a far cry from hospital mobile apps but the basic premise is the same—it’s all about packaging. Notice anything interesting about this? Anything stand out? No, of course it doesn’t. Because the design is so poor this company has basically wound up writing off their biggest selling point, which is the fact these traps are pre-baited. Anyone who’s ever had to deal with a mousetrap knows baiting them is a major hassle. And despite that this company apparently went through a great deal of trouble concocting a bait formula, getting it to adhere to the plastic, testing its durability, etc. somehow the message never got through to the design department. Otherwise, you’d think they’d make a bigger stink (I’ve done it again) about it on their packaging. Particularly since the feature is a brand-differentiator. It’s not easy to find pre-baited mouse traps (and now we know why).

It’s not that they don’t mention the pre-bait feature at all. They do. The trouble is you have to look really closely to even notice it’s there. Look in the bottom left-hand corner of the package. See there’s a drawing of a piece of cheese with a no-smoking type treatment over it? This is a complete packaging-design fail. The words are too tiny to be legible, the cheese is too small to be recognizable as such, and it was placed in a bad spot on the package. Not only that, but the message itself is ambiguous and could be easily misconstrued as meaning, “Do not use cheese with these baits!” To which the puzzled customer thinks to himself, “Well, that’s weird. But all I have is cheese at home, so I guess I better not buy these.”

To be effective, this packaging should simply have featured the words “NO BAIT NEEDED” or “PRE-BAITED” in huge red letters on the package. I’m guessing someone was for whatever reason so jazzed about the idea of creating a transparent window to display the product, they didn’t want to go ruining it by covering it up actual information about the product. But guess what? On its face, the product doesn’t look all that special. It looks like a regular old mousetrap. Nothing to write home about—except for maybe the fact that it’s pre-baited!

The point is, don’t let your app’s best features go unnoticed or unappreciated due to poor (or outdated) design. Always bring your app’s most important or most ground-breaking features up front and present them in a simple, clean professional manner that utilizes the latest device-specific mobile design best-practices.

So if you’ve built a better mousetrap but the world has yet to beat a path to your door, chances are you need better design. Check out our Mobile UI/UX Design Kickstart, then give Propelics a call. Whether your company is redesigning an existing app (or suite of apps) or is looking to add new devices to its portfolio, our Mobile UI/UX Design Kickstart will have your apps looking trustworthy (and user-friendly) in no time.

Steven Brykman

Steven is a Digital Strategist and UX Architect focusing on Mobile Products with a diverse background in writing and literature. He spent much of the last decade as Creative Technologist/Lead Strategist of his own design company, helping Fortune 500 companies define the direction of their digital campaigns, websites and mobile applications. Additionally, he co-founded Apperian, a Boston-based mobile technology startup.

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