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How to Approach App Redesign: Processes, Tools, & Words of Caution

This is a guest article by Quincy Smith from Mira

App redesigns are almost always a formidable project and should not be undertaken likely -- they require a significant number of resources to plan and execute and occasionally are not even needed.

In this post, we’ll explore how to know when it’s time for an update and the best practices to follow to ensure you don’t waste your time or money. We’ll also be looking at some case studies of some well-known technology companies that have redesigned their apps -- for better or worse -- and what we can learn from them.

Why should you redesign your app?

Redesigning an app isn’t a decision that should be made on a whim and it’s important to make sure there’s a genuine need for it first. Here are some factors that might signal that it’s a worthwhile or necessary investment.

Old design

No matter how good your developers are, no app design is truly future-proof. Consumer tastes, aesthetic sensibilities, and design trends all change over time -- and the design of your application needs to keep up if you want to stay competitive.

You only have to look back a couple of years to see how quickly and dramatically design trends can change.

initial iOS apps

Remember what the initial iOS apps looked like?

If your users see an outdated design when they use your app, it can negatively impact customer experience and even reflect badly on your company.

Outdated technology

Rapidly evolving technology can make apps look dated and feel clunky. The emergence of things like NFC, Facial Recognition, and new languages like Swift requires every developer to keep their ear to the ground at the risk of losing users.

Relying on antiquated or outdated technology can give your company a serious disadvantage, especially when coupled with the Aesthetic-Usability Effect.

Poor user feedback

Few things sound the alarm regarding app usability and design like user feedback -- consistent bad reviews are often the catalyst for a redesign and can even sink an app before it can course correct.

On one hand, there’s no disputing that listening to your customers is the best way to learn what’s working and what isn’t. If you’re getting frequent complaints that it’s hard to use or low app ratings, it might be time to start thinking about reworking the UX.

On the other hand, there is truth to the idea that only angry customers complain. It’s important to review feedback alongside your metrics (mentioned below) to get a well-rounded view of what people actually think -- otherwise you risk fixing something that's not actually broken.

It’s also important to note that bad metrics should not be acted on without user reviews, if you’ve got the former without the latter then it’s time to start soliciting feedback via in-app messaging, email surveys, and user interviews.

Bag engagement metrics

In addition to feedback, user data and performance metrics can also give you a good indication of whether or not your current app design is firing on all cylinders.

Tools like Mixpanel, Heap, and even Google Analytics make it easy to measure how users interact with your app, what features are working, and where you’re coming up short.

Unsurprisingly, downward trends for core KPIs indicate something’s wrong and should be used in conjunction with user feedback to determine the correct fix.

If you’re a newcomer to app metrics, here are some of the most important to look at.

User retention. This tells you how many users continue to use your app over time. If you have a lower retention rate than expected based on industry benchmarks, it might signal that you could benefit from improving your app’s "stickiness".

Adoption. This metric indicates what percentage of your users continue to use your app after registration or purchase. Low adoption rates might signal a frustrating UX.

Conversion rates. This tells you the percentage of app users that take the desired action (i.e., paying for a premium license). Low conversion rates are another sign that it might be time to rethink the design.

Change in brand or business model

Finally, if you’re rebranding or pivoting your business model, you’ll need to redesign your app to keep it in line with these changes. Changing your business model will likely require a complete app overhaul with fundamental structural changes in user flows.

If you’re simply rebranding, the process is a lot less daunting and you might be able to get away with only tweaking the UI and microcopy.

How should you redesign your app?

If it’s clear that your app is coming up short despite your best efforts, it’s time to spend some resources figuring out how to fix it. The end result could be iterative improvements or a complete overhaul, and the steps below will give you more insight into just how intensive this process might be.

Set goals & KPIs

The first step is to make sure you’re clear on exactly what it is you want to accomplish with the redesign. All changes need to be measurable in order to be evaluated.

A good place to start is to look at your current user metrics and set goals for where you want them to be after the update. These goals will guide your developers and, after you’ve launched, you can use your KPIs as a benchmark to evaluate your success.

Some useful metrics to look at include:
  • activation rates
  • goal completion
  • drop-off rates
  • active users
If you’ve done your user research, you should see the numbers moving in the right direction post-redesign.

User interviews

The next step is to conduct user interviews and gather feedback on how your customers are using your current app and what they’d like to see change in future versions. You can pair this with the regular user feedback to help guide your design plans.

Research competitors

In addition to user feedback, it’s important to look at what your competitors are doing. At the very least you should be eyeing other apps in your industry to become familiar with them, but it’s even better if you incorporate them into your user interview for first-hand feedback.

There’s no shame in taking inspiration from your competition and we even recommend reviewing their change logs to see what has been updated recently and which features have existed for a long time.

Identify core problems, solutions, and improvements

A big part of the UX design process is understanding the customer journey. Knowing how your users flow through and interact with your app can help you to identify any friction points or problems that prevent them from taking the ideal steps.

A great way to get an overview of your user flows is to create a visual customer journey map. You can then use this to look for bottlenecks and see where your customers are dropping off (app analytics will make this easier).

The end result should be a list of issues that your future update aims to fix -- this may be a long list at first but it’s important to list and document anything you’ve identified. Even if you don’t address it all in the near term, having it on your roadmap will save you time later.

Private feedback

After you’ve identified trouble spots but before you start developing fixes, it’s vital to get outside feedback. This can be internal via people not involved with the app, or through third party groups you turn to for advice.

The goal here is a sanity check: It’s entirely possible to operate in an echo chamber. Making your case plus outlining your plan of attack to outsiders is a great way to ensure it all makes sense.

As you start to create mockups or even release changes, refer back to this group -- pick their brains to see if you’re still on track and ask their advice constantly. You are not an unbiased party in this process and they can help keep you oriented.

Public feedback & iterative changes

Once you’ve got a few changes (or a complete facelift) ready to ship, it’s important to roll it out slowly. Launch iteratively by releasing one new feature per week or month and collect feedback on each feature as you go (you’ve got your analytics set up, right?)

This will help to mitigate risk and avoid overwhelming your users by giving them time to get used to each new feature bit by bit.

But no matter how gradually you roll out the changes, you should also be prepared for blowback. People don’t like change, so a certain amount of negative feedback is unavoidable in the short term.

Who to learn from

Before we wrap up, let’s take a look at some examples of well-known app redesigns and what we can learn from each.

Instagram

Last year, Instagram released its first major redesign in a long time. Among other things, the redesign hoped to direct more users towards using the "Reels" feature (short creator videos) by placing the Reels button in the bottom-center of the menu bar and relegating the compose button to the corner of the screen.

instagram design change

Changes to the design were meant to highlight new Instagram features

This update seems to have been driven by competitor research and Instagram’s decision to pivot their business model towards short-form video content in order to compete with emerging rival social platform TikTok.

The update was met with plenty of blowback from users that preferred the old design (as we mentioned earlier, a certain amount of initial negative feedback is inevitable). However, the decision-makers at Instagram seemed to have been expecting this and were willing to wait it out in the expectation that customers will eventually come around to it.

As Instagram product VP Vishal Shah said, "We don't expect every single Instagram user on day one to feel like these tabs are valuable to them ... but we do believe they can be."

This approach may be paying off for Instagram as Reels is continuing to grow more popular by the day. The takeaway here is to make sure you manage your expectations about initial customer reception. Don’t jump to make changes straight away and give it time to settle in.

Reddit

Instagram isn’t the only platform to have upset their user base with an update last year -- Reddit did the same thing.

After deciding they weren’t happy with the mobile app conversion rates, they opted to redesign the way their mobile site works in order to drive more users to the official Reddit app. They implemented an intrusive banner that directs mobile users to download the app when they open the site in their phone’s browser.

Unfortunately, while switching to the mobile app might be better for the user experience in the long run, users weren’t happy that their hands were being forced. Many complained about the changes and argued that it was only driven by revenue goals at the expense of the user. This forced Reddit to publicly address their concerns by stating that the update was not about revenue and that Reddit had the best interests of the Reddit community in mind.

In this case, it seems the update may have damaged the Reddit brand. This shows why it’s so important to listen to your users about what they actually want before making big changes to your app.

Where to start with your app redesign

Not every app needs a redesign -- it’s entirely possible to get caught up in a keeping-up-with-the-Joneses mindset and update your app for no reason other than vanity.

Our advice is to let the data speak for itself -- review your KPIs regularly, become familiar with industry benchmarks, and tap into your network to understand other apps. If you find your app is lacking (or lagging) in regards to your business goals, allocate some resources to dig deeper to know your users better.

Their feedback coupled with your data should give you some clear places to start - approaching this any other way makes it likely you will spend too much money, focus on the wrong areas, or create something nobody likes.

Take your time, do your research, and only fix what’s broken and what can be measured - good luck!




quincy-smithQuincy is part of the marketing team at Mira, a company that makes it easy for women to track hormones, monitor their fertility, and predict ovulation. He’s passionate about strong coffee, IPAs, and solo travel.

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