6 Best Practices When Designing Web Apps for Your Business

shutterstockA well designed web application will allow your customers to easily and efficiently interact with your business. This can be as simple as a submission form or as complex as a full-blown eLearning or inventory tracking/ordering app. 

Done correctly, it can give you a unique edge among your competitors. However, not all web applications are created equally. Here are six best practices for designing web applications for your business based on consensus from our resident experts.

1. Know your audience.

If you don’t know your audience and haven’t identified what they need, it should come as no surprise that developing an app without sufficient insight will likely result in failure. Yet many companies blindly go down that path, assuming they know what their customers want. If you have a sales or customer support team, leverage them to identify customer pain points. Send out surveys, conduct customer interviews, and study the competition. Only once you have identified the problem you are trying to solve can you actually begin to design a solution.

2. Make functionality a top priority.

Never lose sight that your web app is only going to be successful if it functions well and is readily understood by users. The more complex your web application is, the fewer number of people will "get it." But if your app is user-friendly, the navigation makes sense, and all the controls work properly, it has a chance of being a winner. Your search box should provide relevant results, have seamless transitions, and not have latency. Data input should also be a smooth experience with no hiccups. Processing reports should only take a few steps. Forms should be a simple process, asking only for the minimal amount of information. The more information the user is required to give, the less likely it is they will complete the form.

3. Focus on efficiency for the user.

Try not to get too far ahead of trends by assuming everyone who uses your web application is tech-savvy. The more bells and whistles you add to the design, the more you risk alienating your more casual users who might be attracted to your theme but don't like the way it works. There is a balance that should be struck. Focus on rewarding the user with efficiency and ease-of-use.  Instead of being graphic-intensive, consider using the minimalist approach of flat design, which is the norm for mobile devices and will improve loading speed and performance. Your icons should be self-explanatory and unique for each message. Be sure to surround icons with white space so that they stand out, which will help users read content faster. Keyboard shortcuts in your web application may help improve user workflow.

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4. Use color coding of visual elements.

Colors can help users differentiate between different messages, buttons and functions. You can help readers scan content quicker using color-coded labels consistently. Green, for example, is usually understood as a successful move by the user, while yellow works for warning messages and red alerts the user to an error. Yellow boxes that resemble sticky notes are useful for help messages that guide the user to understanding web applications better. Avoid using random various colors for the same function and similar colors for different functions, so that the colors have meaning and don't become confusing.

5. Offer customization tools.

One way to make the user experience more personal is to offer customization options. For example, letting a user choose default settings or automatically reordering products every month. But before going hog wild on developing extravagant customization options, weigh the benefits vs the cost. A customer feedback loop post go-live is a good way of gathering requests for potential customization tools. Little extras like these can give you a leg up against the competition.

6. Test, test, test before launching.

By now it's a no-brainer that quality control is a crucial part of launching new web applications, but some companies end up rushing their product to market anyway without sufficient testing, leading to user alienation and complaints. Ensuring that your web application meets security requirements should be of utmost importance in today’s environment. Cross-browser and cross-device testing is also crucial as the world continues to become more mobile and new devices are popping up continuously. It’s inevitable that some bugs will make it into production despite best efforts to test everything. Having a swift response and resolution to the issue is key in giving your customers confidence in your company and application.

Download the Designing Web Apps Resource Guide