Unlocking the motivation of your mobile app user

When you look at successful mobile apps and games, there are a few common traits that you will notice in them. They all achieve a certain set of goals that may be subtle or completely obvious (or both!). If you harness the power of motivation for your app user, you have created an experience for your app that will make that user use your app more often than others, make them champions for your app to their friends and family, and generate word of mouth that will increase the popularity of your app in ways that traditional marketing simply can’t do.

At the heart of things, mobile applications are simple.  They solve problems that may be simple or complex, but the way apps solve problems is by making it simple for the user to get done what they need to do quickly.  Really, that’s the crux of it and it’s a bit of a corollary to traditional (i.e.:  desktop/web) apps:

A user does not want to use your app. A user wants to have used your app.

The quicker a user can use your app and achieve the results he/she was looking for, the happier he/she will be and the more likely he/she will use your app again. Just think about the mobile scenarios below:

  • Typing an email on your phone
  • Finding the score of last night’s hockey game
  • Getting 3 stars on a level on Angry Birds
  • Checking in on Foursquare
  • Selling stock
  • Sending a tweet

Success (in my opinion) is dictated largely on the user’s ability to do any of the above as quickly as possible. 

So now that we have established that task completion speed is key to the successful adoption of an app or game, let’s dive more deeply into the basic motivations of any mobile app.  If you joined me on the latest D3 episode with my partner in crime, Jonathan Rozenblit, you will have heard me talk about this.  These motivations are as follows:


The three motivations, as described by Josh Clark in his amazing book Tapworthy, are that every user of a mobile app is one or more of the following:

  • Microtasking:  The user is looking to get simple tasks done during the white spaces in between larger tasks.  For example, sending a quick email while waiting for the bus or playing a game while waiting for the meeting room to free up.
  • Local:  The user is looking to find something that is close to him/her.
  • Boredom:  A user is trying to find something more interesting to do at that very moment.

If your app has an answer to one or more of these motivations and you’ve implemented it the right way, then guess what? You may have a marketplace winner on your hands! If your app doesn’t satisfy any of these motivations or doesn’t execute well on them, then you probably should rethink how your app should work.

By the way, if you find it odd that I’m talking about a book targeting iOS as a way to create successful apps on Windows Phone, the truth of the matter is that learnings from this book are very relevant to building apps on any mobile app platform.

This post is the first in a series of posts on Metro found on this blog. The second (“My app has principles – understanding the Metro design principles”) can be found here. The third post, "Isn’t “tile” just another word for “icon”? Infography vs iconography explained." can be found here.   The third post, "Isn’t “tile” just another word for “icon”? Infography vs iconography explained." can be found here. The fourth post (“Going with the flow… Using Metro to control the experience”) can be found here. The fifth and final post (“Making users awesome in the moment”) can be found here.