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What makes a UI work for your industry?

By Evan Wade / April 7, 2014

What makes a UI work for your industry?

Movies, novels, video games and even user interfaces—whatever creative endeavor you might pursue, quantifying what makes it “good” is a challenging task. When a billion miniscule factors play into the quality of a given project, especially when that project can draw any number of highly subjective opinions, hammering down the precise factors that make it great is a lot harder than simply looking at the competition and seeing what works and what doesn’t. When you venture into a half-science-half-art field like app design, things get even harrier.

While any number of guidelines from an ever-growing list of “expert sources” can serve as guideposts, every project is different. The rules that make a mobile app shine in one industry might sink a product in another. Fortunately, with so many solid examples floating around the app stores of the mobile data world, it’s easy to get a grasp on the basics of any given mobile app genre.

Food service: a burgeoning app genre

As we’ve previously mentioned, mobile apps are booming in the foodservice industry. With any number of functions available for owners to offer their clientele, one company in particular has given their app the works. That company is Domino’s, and while the software is largely built for placing delivery orders, the devil is in the details.

From the dead-simple splash page to the deal listings to the pizza builder and tracker, everything is engineered around a single, obvious ethos: simple is better. Once you’ve chosen whether you want delivery or carry-out—the two main options on the front page—you’re taken straight to the ordering process without any slowdowns or hangups. We also love the app’s Google Wallet integration. While not technically a design feature, it helps position the company as a forward-thinking, tech friendly place.

When it comes to ordering food through a mobile device, two features seem to drive the restaurant industry’s current offerings: simplicity and ease of payment. Any restaurant worth its salt is going to keep their app as clean as their kitchen, with no popups or overtly “salesy” language getting between the customer and their meal. It’s a reflection of the “help, not sell” attitude prevalent among all sorts of retailers these days, and it could be the difference between an app that makes money and an app that’s a waste of money.

Hotels: gadget-friendly hospitality

Of all the software mentioned in this Condé Nast Traveler article, we agree that the Ritz-Carlton app belongs at the top. Once you get past the über-flashy splash screen, the app offers a ton of functionality all packaged in a incredibly user-friendly design. The flat, simple interface is a textbook example of giving the user exactly what they need contextually without cramming a bunch of extra features on the page.

From its Home section, you get the stuff you’d likely need when booking a stay, including a reservations calendar, customer rewards screen and quick-contact button. The hotel-level services under the “At Hotel” button get even more specific, giving guests the option to call the front desk or scroll through “Concierge Tips” that help users learn about their hotel and the area surrounding it. The design is smart, clean, and logically laid-out, with separate pages for each main section and an intuitive color scheme that helps the user figure out where they are within the software at a glance.

Like the hotels themselves, successful hospitality apps have to center around customer service. Apps are the new front-desk attendant, and guests should be able to do everything from checking-in to ordering more towels from their phone or tablet at the drop of a hat. Speed is everything in the hotel industry, and if your app can process a customer’s request faster than your competitors, you’ll be rewarded with glowing reviews on app stores and TripAdvisor.

Supermarkets: mobilizing grocery shopping

Whether you love them or hate them, no one can deny Walmart’s knack for innovation. To stay relevant in a digital age when online retailers are bankrupting brick-and-mortar stores faster than, well … Walmart, this mega market is making a sizeable investment in mobile. And judging by their app store ratings, they’re doing it right.

For starters, their app’s home page features a scant four options, including two deal tabs, a store finder and a direct link to the pharmacy. There’s also a highlight window up top that attractively displays timely promotions like “Tax Refund” specials and “Super Bowl” savings. The app also uses seamless GPS recognition, making sure you have access to the latest deals and inventory of whatever store you’re standing in.

To make the checkout process even smoother, Walmart has introduced the Scan & Go feature, which allows customers to scan items as they shop instead of doing it at the checkout. Each scanned item is placed in the customer’s virtual and physical cart, which the self-checkout kiosks recognize as they approach the register. Then all the customer has to do is swipe their credit card and head to their car. It’s fast, easy and most importantly, it’s smart.

We also like the app’s marriage of other electronic and brick-and-mortar features. For example, you can store your receipts by scanning QR codes, track an online order and even order prints of photos taken from your device, sending them directly to the nearest available photo center. All of these features are easily accessible in the app’s sidebar.

When it comes to consumer goods, information is power, and no retail app gives their customers more knowledge than Walmart. Between the price comparisons, inventory updates and user reviews, the Walmart app gives shoppers everything they need to make a fast and informed purchase, the crux of the retail sector.

Great UI across the board

As we’ve said over and over again, simplicity appears to be the first key when it comes to designing a mobile app. From Walmart’s easy-peasy sidebar to Ritz-Carlton’s minimalistic home screen, everything has to be easy to access and use. The focus should be functionality first, not sales or conversions.

Regardless of your industry, you have to identify what your customer needs and then build your app around that. In Domino’s case, customers need pizza, and their app succeeds by quickly taking the user from homepage to toppings to pizza tracking without prolonging their hunger.

For Ritz-Carlton, it’s all about service. Whether a guest needs dining suggestions, directions to the spa or a wakeup call, they can quickly find anything they need from the simple and elegant home menu.

And for companies as overwhelmingly complex as Walmart, it’s all about helping customers cut through the clutter so they can find what they need and spend more money. With thousands of stores across the country and inventory ranging from big-screen TVs to lima beans, it’s hard to imagine navigating such a store without a little assistance.

If all else fails, just picture yourself as the user. Ask yourself, “How could this app make my life easier?” If you can’t think of an answer, just read the app store reviews. Unhappy users are always quick to let you and everyone else on the Internet know what’s wrong with your app.

Compare and contrast apps across a variety of industries with the Otter App Ratings Visualizer.