Website & Mobile App Design: What Are The Differences?
Generally, design is only associated with websites.
While apps are slowly becoming popular, they’re not as popular as website design.
Google Trends seems to suggest the same. The following chart compares the popularity of web and app design:
In many cases, companies wrongly club both web and app design together. Both are different practices, and although there are some areas of overlap, the approach and end product are vastly different.
Knowing the differences between designing both is a good idea to start a website and app.
This article lays out the critical differences between a website and mobile app design.
Web and app design: The essentials
Let’s first go over the basics of website and app design.
While we have a pretty good idea of both these practices, it can be tricky to understand which practices are consolidated in both.
Digital design can be defined as a practice that covers UI and UX. In simple words, it is about creating and managing the visual appearance of a digital asset and how users interact with it.
You can apply this definition to both website and app design. In the following sections, we cover both in detail.
What is website design? In simple words, it encapsulates the look and feel of your website.
The ‘look’ part comes down to the user interface (UI). This includes all the steps a design professional takes to create a visually appealing website.
Many factors go into UI. Since most CMS websites are built on WordPress, let’s take it as an example. What factors affect UI design on WordPress websites?
The following points highlight the same:
- Colour theme: Every website has a set colour theme. This theme has a significant impact on how your website looks.
- Website theme: Your WordPress theme profoundly impacts your website’s design. Generally, it’s a good idea to choose a simple theme. Simple themes are easier to design and don’t hold back your website’s speed.
- Responsiveness: Static websites which don’t respond to user input have poor engagement. Your site’s elements should ideally react and animate when a user performs an action.
- Clarity: UI plays a considerable role in bringing clarity to the website. Visitors should know what they need to do to get somewhere. The desired action can vary, but there should be a clear path towards every desired event. Many UI decisions are based on making your website predictable.
- Website speed: The type of UI assets you add to your website are dependent on your site’s speed. If your server is not optimal, using too many graphical elements is not a good idea. Your server thus plays a crucial role in determining your site’s UI.
Many of the factors covered here affect your site’s user experience (UX) as well. While UI is about your site’s look, UX is about managing its feel.
Something like experience can seem too subjective to manage. However, there are codified design principles that you can put into effect to manage your site’s user experience.
By applying the correct principles, you can completely optimise the way people behave on your website.
The following points highlight some of the critical UX principles to manage your site’s experience:
- Accessibility: Your website should make it easy for users to navigate different pages. This is especially important if you have a product-based website. In this case, visitors may need to access product information or see your pricing. Make obvious information easily accessible.
- Instant understanding: It shouldn’t take visitors too much time to understand the primary offering of your website. UX designers generally have a five-second test, implying that users should understand your primary offerings within five seconds.
- User journeys: As Steve Jobs said, design is not just about the look and feel. It’s also about how it works. When designing a website, you need to think about how a visitor would navigate across it. Map potential user journeys and see where potential bottlenecks arise.
- Usability: In searching for the best possible interface, designers forget usability. For instance, if you have fancy and aesthetic icons for important screens, but your visitors don’t understand them, you’re stuck. Usability testing is thus essential for web design.
- Responsive: UX designers have to manage how users interact with the mobile version. Creating a mobile responsive website is a crucial tenet of website UX.
Within UI and UX, we can encompass every aspect of website design.
Much like web design, app design is also essentially about managing the look and feel of an app.
There are obvious technological differences and variances in determining factors, but the gist is to make apps beautiful and easy to use.
Again, some factors affect a mobile app’s UI and UX design.
Let’s first focus on mobile app UI. Since apps are built for mobile devices only, the considerations involved are more smartphone-based.
The following points highlight some key app UI factors:
- Screen size: The size of your screen affects the way you design the UI elements of your app. Depending on your audience, you need to design your app’s UI so that all the elements are responsive across different screen sizes.
- Colour scheme: Too many colours can jumble your app appearance on a small screen. Rules like 60:30:10 can help you keep taking a measured approach to set your app’s colour scheme. It is also a good idea to choose a colour.
- Typography: The font and text style you select directly affects its appearance. Ideally, the styling should match the colour scheme of your app.
- White space: The space on a mobile screen is limited, and it is vital to declutter your app’s appearance. The use of white or negative space is essential to ensure your app’s design is straightforward.
Similarly, key factors are affecting the user experience of your mobile app. The following points explain some of them in detail:
- Finger-friendly design: Users interact with mobile apps with their fingers. The design should be spacy enough to accommodate the typical fingers of an average user.
- Colour correlation: The colour scheme you choose has to match the essential offering of the app. Users make specific connections to particular colours. Based on the products, services, or content offered in your app, the colour scheme should match the same. For example, yellow is associated with warmth and sunshine and is thus an excellent colour for travel apps.
- User journeys: While designing your app, you need to map how users interact. This means visualising how users will open a particular screen and making user action easy.
- App speed: Your app’s speed plays a significant role in shaping the user experience. Ensure your app’s hosting services are optimal and built to overcome bandwidth bottlenecks and traffic fluctuations.
Mobile responsiveness and app design
Mobile responsiveness is a prominent feature of app design. The entire point of creating an app is building a digital asset built for mobile.
How does mobile responsiveness work for apps? More specifically, native apps?
Native apps are built to interact with a mobile device’s hardware effectively. This is why apps can outperform mobile websites. Apps also look and work better than mobile websites for the same reason.
Responsiveness for apps comes down to responding to different devices appropriately. The app’s layout needs to be designed well to respond well to all devices across the board.
This means designing each section of the app to fit well on every mobile device, irrespective of the screen size.
There’s also the question of making sure your app performs well. Each smartphone has different processing power. Your app should ideally load well on most modern smartphone devices.
These constraints are either absent or less pronounced in app design.
What are the main points of difference?
Website and app design are different.
From approach to execution, there are differences in the way professionals work on website and app design. We’ve covered how different factors shape your website and app’s design.
By understanding the differences, you can optimise your website and app development approach.
The following sections explain these points of difference in detail:
#1: Hardware performance
While smartphones are becoming increasingly powerful, you cannot compare them to desktops in terms of performance.
While designing your website, you can create elements and sections by assuming that a large part of your audience would be using desktops.
You can thus expect a certain degree of performance when designing a website.
For app design, the decisions you make have to account for the hardware performance of your devices. Every smartphone has different hardware, and your app should adapt appropriately to varying device environments.
These considerations are unique to mobile app design.
#2: Screen size
Screen size dictates your app layout to a great degree. If your app is specially designed for tablet users, you can enlarge your layouts and build UX around tablet users.
Let’s reverse the prospect and assume you’re creating a lightweight app specifically for users with smaller screens. Again, the considerations change, and your UI layouts have to work for smaller devices.
Screen sizes are a significant factor in mobile app design. For web design, you don’t need to worry about screen sizes and assume a level of consistency.
It marks a clear difference in designing websites and apps.
#3: User behaviour
There are natural differences in how users interact with websites and apps.
Making it easy for users to use your website and app comes down to user experience. To do this, you need to understand how users interact with both.
This means understanding two things: the information your users are looking for and how they access it.
Information architecture is a vital part of digital design. The way you present the information users are looking for determines their experience.
While creating a mobile app, you need to make your screens easily navigable. For websites, the considerations are different.
How do you decide which screens and information users want to see most often? In the long run, you can lean on analytics to reflectively understand popular screens and pages of your app and website.
This way, you can understand your users more effectively. Based on analytics data, you can make certain information easily accessible.
#4: Hardware integration
Mobile apps can interact with the native hardware of a device. This means they can access native hardware like cameras and microphones.
While designing an app, you can leverage these features to improve the user experience.
Websites are not designed in the same way. They’re essentially built to work in a web browser. While they can leverage key hardware features, apps are more closely integrated with smartphone hardware.
This distinction is also crucial in making apps more desirable to mobile websites. Performance-wise, apps work better on mobile devices.
With apps, you can also expect more intensive engagement methods. Push notifications are an example of the same.
These tactics improve the user experience of users. They can remain connected with the app and get updates at any time.
A method like push notifications doesn’t work as smoothly for websites. Companies instead have to lean on third-party methods like email marketing for website engagement.
If you’ve designed both websites and apps, you probably understand the difference between both.
On a basic level, there are areas where both overlap. Designing websites and apps is all about making your app look and work better.
Differences arise because users have different expectations from both. This makes it essential for designers to anticipate variations in user behaviour and make design decisions accordingly.
This article compares website and app design in detail, the factors that affect both, and apparent aspects where designers need to approach challenges differently.