UI/UX and user retention

UI/UX and user retention – Strategies for success

There’s a quote from one of the founding fathers of modern architecture that perfectly describes what good UI/UX is.

Form follows function – that has been misunderstood. Form and function should be one, joined in a spiritual union.

Frank Lloyd Wright may have been speaking to the principles of good design in architecture, but his words could just as easily be used to describe robust mobile UI/UX design. I doubt the architect had ever dreamed of this quote being attributed to smartphones and mobile apps, but this idea forms a solid foundation of what good UI/UX should be.

He was speaking of the Guggenheim, but his work that most masterfully portrayed this school of thought was Falling Water. But – you may be asking yourself – what does a mid-century home in Pennsylvania have to do with UI/UX?

When a user opens your app, they should feel like they’re going home.

There is no precise, set in stone, foolproof method for ensuring your app’s UI/UX is successful – but there are steps you can take to help achieve this.

What to expect:

  • A look into the blending of UI/UX and user retention
  • Steps you can take during development to help ensure strong user retention

Minimum Viable Product

Speaking of solid foundations, its always best if your app starts with one. The easiest way to ensure this is to begin your development with an MVP (minimum viable product).

MVPs are the epitome of KISS (keep it simple, stupid) and are designed to provide the answer to your users’ pain point – and nothing else. Take a look, for example, at BrewTrader, an app we made. It’s designed to provide one function – to connect craft beer enthusiasts and provide a platform for them through which to trade brews. Each feature exists to provide a single part of the solution, and together as a whole, work synchronously to achieve the goal of craft beer switching hands.

When you are only focused on one goal, your UI inherently builds itself to achieve that goal – and with less tangential features to consider, clean and concise design will most likely come to fruition as a result.

It’s important to note that UI is directly responsible for the vast majority of your app’s UX, and is a significant factor that users will consider when they ask themselves the question; “Do I like this app?”

It might seem counter-intuitive to send out an app to market that isn’t fully complete – but as long as the inner workings are there to solve your users’ singular, crucial pain point, they’ll be pleased. A good MVPs incompleteness isn’t noticeable – and your users shouldn’t be aware they were missing something until after you add it.

As long as BrewTrader keeps the craft beer flowing, users are happy. When tangential, quality-of-life features (like user rating systems, or location services) are added later, users won’t feel like they were short-changed in the beginning – they’ll be grateful for an enhanced UX, and as such, be more likely to continue using the app.

Once your MVP is ready, you can move on to testing.


App Testing

Testing is one of the hardest steps for any developer – large testbeds are an organizational nightmare for project managers, software engineers are plagued with re-writes, and CTOs are frustrated by the inevitable technical issues that will undoubtably rear their ugly head.

But if there’s one way to ensure good UX, it’s user testing.

There isn’t much to say about this other than to just do it. Testing is used to diagnose flaws in your app – which, while not fun for the devs, is crucial to good UX.

After the first three days of a download, 77% of users have already deleted that app from their device. After 30 days, 90% of active users will have stopped using the app. The lesson here? The odds are always stacked against your app when it comes to user retention. This can be attributed to a litany of reasons, the most common culprits being slow load times, freezing/crashing, janky animations, and even taking up too much device storage.

One of the most demoralizing aspects of testing is that your testers will rarely go into detail about features and UI they liked. It’s much more difficult to express what makes up a well-designed UI than it is to criticize; but take to heart that if your UI isn’t receiving any feedback, it’s most likely because it’s already doing its job. There’s always room for improvement (as with anything in this world) but remember that an app’s UI isn’t a painting – its design should be bold enough to demand attention, simple enough to rely on your users’ intuition, and robust enough to allow additions and updates down the line.

The best way to increase your app’s chance at successfully capturing a regularly returning user base is to throughly test it. By using user stories, you can determine where the trouble spots are – and then hone in and fix the issues. There’s probably never been (and never will be) a bug-free app, but the closer you can get to a perfect app before launch, the greater your user retention numbers will be off-the-bat.


Ever had your device’s keyboard lag while you’re texting? It’s disconcerting when the key you pressed doesn’t appear above your thumb, and it’s hardly noticeable when it works correctly. That’s the sign of a good feature.

A well-implemented feature doesn’t announce its presence every time it appears on a screen; it quietly enhances the user’s experience within the app. In short, your features should flow into one another.

These visual, quality-of-life features that interact with a user’s inputs are called motion design, and are a very simple way to increase your user retention, as they act as visual indicators as to what step the user is on in your app at any given time. Your users should never feel lost – they should feel at home – and one of the easiest ways to provide that comfort is with motion design.

A feature should always serve to enhance the solution to your users’ pain point, so when determining your app’s tech stack, consider; “Does this help my users?”

If it does, great! If it doesn’t, it’s time to go back to the drawing board. There aren’t many features that are directly responsible for increasing user retention (other than push notifications, which 60% of iPhone users disable anyway), but they rather act as a whole to present a polished, useful package for your users.

Don’t be worried if your app isn’t making use of every feature available – if your app doesn’t need location services, for example, it will function better without it. App bloat is real, and less is more.

The most important step you can take when it comes to increasing user retention through features is to make sure each feature works perfectly, and flows into the next.


Updating your app frequently serves three important purposes:

  • It reminds your users that your app exists
  • It keeps your app’s security up to date
  • It shows your users that you care, and are invested in improving their experiences

Updates are, I would argue, a more effective call-to-action than push notifications. Not only does the notification to update your app serve the same purpose of reminding a user to open your app, it implicitly tells your users there is either something new, or something has been improved.

Keeping your users personal information secure is a no-brainer – any user that notices their information has been compromised by your app will undoubtedly stop using your app and delete it. A large chunk of app conversions come from word-of-mouth; and dissatisfied customers are much more likely to complain about your app than a happy user is to praise it. Never underestimate how damaging a low user review or score can be on your app’s rank within the App Store or Google Play.

Updates that improve your app’s UI, or fix bugs, show your users that you care about their experience. People like feeling cared for – just think about the difference between eating at a fast-food restaurant and dining at a sit-down eatery. We even have different words to describe these culinary experiences – “eating” versus “dining.”

Start with an app that gives your users an experience to dine on, rather than just eat. Then, update it frequently to ensure your menu is consistently fresh and robust.

Users are fickle, until they’re not

There doesn’t seem to be much middle-ground here; if a user hasn’t deleted your app, they’ll either open it once a month, or make it part of their daily lives. In fact, the average mobile user in the US will spend 90% of their time using their top five apps.

There is no set of rules for ensuring high user retention numbers, but clean and responsive UI, through testing, synchronous features, and pertinent updates will greatly increase your app’s chances of success.

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