|Find Melltoo in the App Store and Google Play Store|
If you are outsourcing your mobile app development, or even if you are doing it yourself, you should hire a UI/UX designer or make sure your development company has a very good one on board. Mind you, an experienced freelance UI/UX designer doesn't come cheap. Expect to pay between $35 - $50 per hour.
When we built the first version of Melltoo (mobile app--social classifieds market), about 25% of our development costs went to the UI/UX designer. At first, we had no plans to hire a UI/UX designer given that 'app design' was built into the cost of development. So why hire a UI/UX designer when the developers were already volunteering to do it for no extra cost?
What is UI/UX?
First, let me say that UI/UX is much more than just design. UI refers to user interface and UX refers to user experience. To this day, I still can't confidently tell you the difference between the two; but in plain English, UI/UX refers to the look and feel of the app and how it works. UI/UX is what users see and interact with.
The web 2.0 ethos of collaboration, open source, and technology as a platform has now progressed to web 3.0. Technology itself is no longer enough; technology wrapped in a beautiful UI, that offers a wonderful UX, is what users of today want and expect (thanks Nima of pitme.com for opening my eyes to this!). To me, that just means that web 3.0 is all about the mobile experience. Given the lack of screen real estate and the preference for native apps, a focus on UI/UX is absolutely critical to the success of a mobile app. Unlike the 13-15 inch web page, there is simply no room on a 4-5 inch smartphone screen for redundancy (e.g. two buttons that do the same thing).
Let me give you an example. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Melltoo (Go download it! Links are below), it is a mobile app platform for a consumer-to-consumer marketplace. It is mobile classified ads with robust social features and built-in instant messaging. We are currently working on an important new feature that alerts users of new ad listings that match search criteria specified by the user. This is quite straightforward and most web-based classifieds sites have this. But things are not so simple on mobile. Our first headache is how/where/on which screen to introduce a button/link/icon that indicates this new feature. Since we don't have the room for a text explanation of the feature, we need a strategically placed button that is either one-word or an icon that instantly conveys what the feature does. Can you think of one? I can't. That's where the UI/UX designer comes in.
By the way, if a user cannot figure out what your app is about or how to use it within the first 30 seconds, say hello to the trash can.
In some cases, the app developer is a UI/UX designer as well. But that is rare. You know what they say: Jack of all trades, master of none. More than likely, your developer is a hacker who can write the code that your app runs on. But knowing how to build and what to build is a different thing. Developers don't always have the user in mind when they code; and even when they do, their knowledge of code often blindsides them. They know how to navigate things that the everyday non-techie doesn't.
That's where the UI/UX designer comes in. He/she will design a UI that is not only beautiful but also user-friendly and 'dummy-proof'. With this blueprint, the developer has a much easier time coding since he/she can focus on optimizing code as opposed to design and screen-flow. That's why app development is a team effort. As a matter of fact, it took a UI/UX designer, an iOS developer, an Android developer, a backend developer, and a quality assurance guy to build Melltoo.
Finding a freelance UI/UX designer
Finding a good UI/UX designer isn't all that difficult, which is not to say it's easy either. Unlike code, UI/UX is visual and can be seen and experienced. If you are looking for a freelancer, try behance.net or dribbble.com. You can browse some portfolios to get a feel of the style that works for your app and your audience (not just a style that you like!). This is obvious. What is not so obvious is that the designer you pick needs to have an understanding of your business, as much as a tech co-founder. Not only should the designer understand the functionality of the app, he/she must also understand the problem the app is trying to solve and how you plan on monetizing (or not) the app. This is crucial in laying down a framework for future iterations of the app. For example, if you intend to monetize with banner ads (eewww!), then important app elements should be located away from where banner ads are placed to avoid the "fat finger" problem, where users accidentally tap on the banner ad while aiming for something else. Previous work by the designer on a similar app is highly desirable. So be sure to communicate what your business is about and check the designer's understanding by asking him/her questions about your business. (More tips on working with freelancers in a post I have yet to write.)
If you are now convinced and are looking for a UI/UX designer, I can recommend a couple that I have worked with and know to be reliable (they are not all reliable!). But you have to 'pay' me by following me on twitter @melltoo_me (and I will follow you back so you can DM me). Alternatively, like our Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/Melltoo.me) and write us a message there.