Mobile App Design: Designing for a Web App vs. Native App
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One of the major decisions enterprises face early on in the mobile app development process is building a native app, web app, or a hybrid of the two. This decision not only influences the overall design of a mobile product but also impacts how users interact with your specific product. Inevitably, this will dictate the varying aspects and requirements you outline in your product requirements document that will ultimately communicate to your product team what to build, who for, and how it benefits the end-user.


This article will outline how web apps and native apps each uniquely serve a different purpose. A web app is primarily used for accessing information, and mobile apps are typically used to complete a task (i.e., buying a product vs. searching a restaurant’s location.) Ultimately, taking a design thinking approach to development allows enterprises to understand users better and choose an app type that provides a solution to their pain points


Below, we examine the difference between web apps and native apps, as well as several considerations for how to design a mobile product to ensure it serves your business objectives and your target audience’s needs.  


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What is a Web App 

As mentioned above, websites provide users with a means to access information. While web apps can’t display as much information as a desktop version of a website, web apps condense the website content to improve functionality. Essentially a web app is an extension of your website with newer web features that offer a more native-like experience. Progressive web apps load in browsers like Chrome, Safari, or Firefox, and don’t need to be downloaded from app stores (Google Play, Apple’s App Store) like native mobile apps. 

Web App Design Considerations

Web app design is focused on information architecture. Properly designing a web app will ensure users can easily navigate your app, finding the information they want or need quickly and efficiently.


It is imperative to design a navigation system that is intuitive to use, allowing users to quickly locate the content they want. Furthermore, incorporating a proper navigation hierarchy will guide users through your site, allowing them to complete site goals, be it conversion, education, or awareness. Create a strong hierarchy by first eliminating unnecessary clicks. Use breadcrumbs to show the user where they currently are within your app and how they got there. Breadcrumbs also help users navigate to higher-level pages. Finally, when designing the navigation system, be sure to utilize font sizes, line height, and character count to draw the user’s attention to key information and navigation options.


It’s reported that 47% of consumers expect a web page to load in two seconds or less. Users are easily frustrated with performance and usability issues like load times, small images, and network availability. An easy way to combat a slow or laggy web app is to keep things lean. Display and incorporate only necessary information and features in your web app. The fewer elements there are, the quicker the app will load. As mentioned earlier, web apps condense web content to improve functionality. Make sure your web app focuses on providing a solution to only one user pain point and ensure it is easy for users to achieve this goal.

Adaptive vs. Responsive

With Statista forecasting that there will be over 16 billion mobile devices worldwide by 2023, businesses designing web apps need to keep in mind that no one device is alike, and therefore need to account for how their web app will display on varying screen sizes. The answer lies in either developing an adaptive web app or a responsive web app. 


A responsive design responds to changes in browser width by re-adjusting the design elements to fit the available space. On mobile phones, this process is automatic; the site checks for the available space and then presents itself in the ideal arrangement. 


Adaptive design has multiple fixed layout sizes. When the site detects the available space, it selects the layout most appropriate for the screen. For example, if the app is opened on a mobile device the site chooses the best layout for that screen. In adaptive design, it’s normal to develop six designs for the six most common screen widths; 320, 480, 760, 960, 1200, and 1600 pixels.


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Native App

Native mobile apps are the most common type of app. They are built for specific platforms (i.e., Apple or Android) and are written in languages that the platform accepts. For example, Swift and Objective-C for native iOS apps and Java or Kotlin for native Android apps. Most companies will invest in native mobile app development because of the many benefits offered in comparison to other types of apps.

Native App Design Considerations

Native app design is centered around what is known as interaction design. To be successful, it is imperative to have a thorough understanding of your users, their pain points, and what solution this app will provide. After pinpointing the task a user wants to accomplish, you can easily design the right user flow and user journey to guide the user through the app. 

Use Familiar Gestures

Implementing gestures into your app design is an excellent method for creating shortcuts for navigation and key functions. However, introducing new user gestures in the UI that aren’t familiar can result in a learning curve. It is essential to implement standard gestures so they are consistent with other apps. Some of these gestures include double-tap, touch-and-hold, and pinch.


Also, invest in researching user motion patterns on their devices. Users hold their devices in different ways, understanding what motions they make and discovering the most accessible locations on the screen ensure a comfortable experience. Placing a critical function in an area that is hard to reach, for example, can be detrimental to the overall functionality of the app.

Keep Content and Interface Elements to a Minimum

Carefully and thoughtfully select what functions and features are needed for your native app. Filling your interface with unnecessary buttons, images, and icons can burden users with too much information. As there isn’t as much real estate on mobile devices as there is on desktops, it’s essential to get rid of anything that isn’t key to the app’s functionality. If it doesn’t help the user achieve their end goal, cut it out. This will ensure your users find your app easy to comprehend, allowing them to see a clear-cut purpose to your product. 

Minimize User Input

For many users, entering any information into an app (be it registration, or filling out a form) is tedious. Due to the size of the keyboard that is often presented, the majority of information that is provided can be riddled with errors leading to further frustration. The simple fix is to minimize user input. Eliminate the need for unnecessary registration forms and other elements that require user input. However, if this is necessary to your app, some best practices can be implemented to make the process smoother. Try to keep forms as short as possible by removing any unnecessary fields. The app should ask for only essential information from the user. As a final step to avoid added frustration, implement autocomplete features and dynamically validated fields, as these will ensure data is correct before being submitted. 

Final Thoughts

While there are commonalities, there is also a distinct difference in how native apps and web apps should be designed. First and foremost, it is vital to have a deep understanding of your target users and their pain points. Identifying their needs will guide you towards the approach that fits your needs. Keep in mind that native apps and web apps serve different purposes that dictate design elements and functionalities.


Above all, it is important to remember that mobile app development is an iterative process. Implementing the design considerations above in your app should be a starting point for continued testing. Use the provided data and user feedback to improve your design and overall experience continually. 

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