Mobile app design guidelines, cost and ROI

The design of mobile apps is very important part of app development. But the main question we are interested in is app design cost. In our article we’ll talk about different phases of a design process, important factors, needed time and, of course, we’ll estimate the total cost.

Before getting into this topic you can read our blog about application development to get an idea of the process in general. A design is not only about the fancy look but more about the way users interact with your app. So making attractive interface is not enough. It must both look well and work well because even the most beautiful pictures can’t compensate uncomfortable usability.

What is mobile app design?

“Design is the creation of a plan or convention for the construction of an object, system or measurable human interaction”. This is what we find in Wikipedia. So if we are talking about the design of mobile apps we mean working both on backend and frontend parts. It means that even technologies, used by developers, mean a lot.

And design, in this case, involves not only creating visual part (UI). It is actually more about how the app works. So that design process must include management of users, server side logic, customization of user experience, data integration and many other processes. Actually, design plays a great role even in the testing phase.

We can point several aspects of app design.

  • UX design: this aspect is based on studying users’ behavior. The results give the designer an idea of the best user experience and allow him to develop an app that will be convenient for people. And the better UX the more successful is an app.
  • Visual design: The most obvious design aspect involves working on the visual side of the app. Users want your application to be not only useful but also aesthetic.
  • Icon, logo, and branding: This aspect is sometimes merged with the visual design, but in our opinion, it shouldn’t. The fact is that your logo means a lot in UI, but it can also exist independently. Remember, that all your products including mobile apps must contain your branding.

These three aspects reflect the main idea of app design, but at the same time, it is a far more complicated process. It includes more parts and phases that form total cost of designer work. Let’s now describe them in detail.


Phases of app design process

As many other complex processes design can be divided into certain parts, so to say phases, where different actions are performed. Each of this phases is very important and plays a certain role in getting the final result.

1. Analyze app idea.

Design process never starts with drawing. Actually the most important here is the idea you bring to developers. To gain success our designers start with a lot of research like studying market or potential users. At this phase, our employees usually work a lot together with clients until they get a clear idea about final result and client’s expectations. Probably anyone would agree that paying more for a redesign, in the end, is not the best idea.

Estimated time: 20-40 hours with a maximum of 150 hours.

2. Work on the prototype.

When the idea is clear it is time to build the first prototype of the app. This gives a possibility to tests and fixes your project concept if needed. Creating a prototype also consist of a few parts.

  • Wireframing

During this process, designers create minimal sketch models to show the structure and layout app screens. This allows our workers to approve an idea with the client. Creating wireframes can be a long process. It depends on the complexity of the app and the number of needed screens. Also, this process can last longer if a customer doesn’t give clear details to the designer. At the same time bringing own wireframes examples or at least showing similar apps can speed up this process.

Estimated time: 16-56 hours with a maximum of 140 hours.

app design cost

  • User experience design (UX)

Designers must ensure that the application would be easy, intuitive and enjoyable to operate. To achieve that goal our employees check the logic of screen layouts and architecture, follow standards of design for exact OS or device etc. Working on UX design usually runs parallel with both UI design or even wireframing. Finally, prototype phase ends with usability testing and validating the concept.

Estimated time: 8-24 hours with a maximum of 200 hours.

3. Create visual design (UI)

After the prototype is ready and tested well designers can start creating sketches. At this phase, they work on a visual part of an app including icons, splash screen and interface elements (tabs, buttons etc.). Also, it is important to work on branding here. So if you don’t have unique logo or icon it should be created.

Visual design can sometimes be very time-consuming. Again it depends on many factors like a number of screens, quantity of custom-designed elements, the complexity of the work etc. At the same time, clear customer preferences or examples make this work faster.

Estimated time: 16-88 hours with a maximum of 200 hours.

app design cost

Design cost may vary due to many different factors but we can name few of them.Factors that influence app design cost

1. Designer

First of all, your expenses depend on the chosen specialist. For instance, if you want to hire a professional senior designer,  be ready to pay up to $150 per hour or even more. At the same time, the less experienced designer can take only $45/hour.

Choosing the right person depends on you only. But here we can recommend one thing: think about the type of your app thoroughly.

If your potential users are aimed at high functionality, a unique visual look is probably not that important. Just follow the market standards and better put more money into app features. But if all your competitors have a brilliant design you should invest more into visual part of your app too.

You can look for freelancers on services like Upwork, Freelancer or Guru. But at the same time hiring an outsource company is a better solution for larger and more complicated projects. By the way, you can make a deal about the cost for the full project, not depending on per hour rate.

Our example: Estimation App

Estimation App gives the pre-estimate of your unique app in three simple steps. It calculates time and resources needed to develop a certain product. In this case, our designers made a detailed and inclusive wireframe. They implemented more than 30 basic features to choose from including UX/UI design.

The most important thing was to make a user-friendly interface with clear and comprehensible icons. An intuitive interface allows users to make an estimation for every separate feature and the whole project in general almost in no time  (wireframes and detailed app screens are above).

app design cost

2. Geography

In the previous part of the article, we were mainly talking about hours needed to perform each stage of design process. This actually is the easiest way to estimate design cost as most freelancers and developers companies value their work in dollars per hour.

USA & Canada – $50-250 per hourSo if you are thinking about hiring a freelancer or an outsourcing company regard the geography of the question. The cost of design in different parts of the world varies drastically: from cheap India or Bangladesh to most expensive USA and Canada.

  • Australia – $50-$150 per hour
  • Western Europe &UK – $35 and $170 per hour
  • Eastern Europe – $25 – $150 per hour
  • India – $10-$80 per hour

You can use Bonsai tool to visualize freelance designer charges by experience level, skill, and geography.

3. Complexity

As was mentioned above app complexity influences the total design cost. Obviously, the easier is design the less you pay. It is hard to predict the exact price of design for an app until the detailed estimate is done. But still, we can give you approximate image basing on most common types of apps. To count app cost we’ll use an average price for outsourcing developer company – $50 per hour.

  • Simple app

Here we include very simple applications with 1-4 screens. Usually, they have very limited functions and can’t store any data about the user.

Estimated time: above 100 hours.
Design cost: from $5,000.
Examples: Pomodoro Timer, Flashlight etc.

app design cost

Weather App Animation from ThinkMobiles
  • Average app

Application with middle complexity usually includes Database/API. To create such projects designer must think of more complicated infrastructure and work on more screens.

Estimated time: above 200 hours.
Design cost: from $10,000.
Examples: Journey, WhatsApp etc.

app design cost

Chatbot UX animation from ThinkMobiles
  • Complex app

Multi-featured or enterprise apps usually need a complex design with custom animations. Such apps have several key features and also include additional options.

Estimated time: above 500 hours.
Design cost: from $25,000.
Examples: Facebook, Evernote etc.

app design cost
Chat Concept animation from ThinkMobiles
  • Game

This type of apps is special because in most cases it has an animation that increases design cost a lot. Besides an average design for a game is more complex and requires more visual work. At the same time, you must remember that games can be both very simple and very complex. So again, ‘it depends’.

Estimated time: 300 hours and more.
Design cost: from $15,000.
Examples: Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja, Fidget Spinner etc.

iOS vs Android: native app design

One more important factor in app design is the development of native applications. There is a big difference in designing Android and iOS apps. In earlier times Google Play didn’t have approval system and designers felt free to experiment with UX/UI. However, the times changed. Not only Google Play must approve your app now, but also you should follow Google Material Design. It is a rule system that guidelines user interface. Apps with Material Design usually are ranked higher in Google Play.

On the opposite, Apple App Store used to approve applications from the very beginning. Also, iOS has always had strict Human Interface Guidelines. Together with the standardized range of iOS devices, it makes a process of app design a bit easier. For instance, only iOS designers have a luxury of ‘pixel-perfect‘ design. However, the cost of app design for iOS tends to be higher due to bigger expenses on Apple App Store and more strict rules. Also, the cost will depend on the type of device you work with. Let’s make an example.

  • iPhone only – base level design. Usually, doesn’t require images for retina display. Costs approximately $3,000-$10,000
  • iPhone 6 Plus Compatible – +25% to above cost. Starting from iPhone 4 Apple produces mobile phones with retina display, that needs higher resolution files.
  • iPad – +50% to above cost. Not only higher resolution is needed, but in many cases, developers must create alternate functionality for the iPad size and speed. This requires new designs.

At the same time, Android devices are constantly changing and developing so that Android designer must work on a more adaptive design. This adds 15-20% of the time to the design process if compared with iOS. As you can see there is a difference in designing native apps. The difference exists even in app design for various devices. So that it is a good idea for you to study your audience and decide which platforms and technologies you would like to concentrate on.

ROI in app design

While talking about app design we had to remember ROI – return on investment. It is really important to talk about the value of investing into design because sometimes it’s underestimated. There is a popular IBM’s rule: “Every dollar invested in ease of use returns $10 to $100“. What does it mean in our case? As we pointed earlier it is easier to work on problems at the phase of planning or creating a prototype than change already made a design. And even more, it costs less.

In other words, it is easier to prevent the problem at early phases than fight with its consequences. But even if your app is ready it is still a good idea to invest in improving your design as bad user interface and UX makes customers leave your app and prevent adding new users. However, at this point, the cost for redesign will be much higher.

At the same time, a simple change of the site button can make miraculous changes in your profit. In the Luke Wroblewski book ‘Web Form Design: Filling in the Blanks’ we can find an interesting story about the button that was worth $300 Million.

It says that one major e-commerce site had a registration form. It popped up when new users filled their shopping cart and before they could actually make a purchase. Usability tests showed designers that this procedure actually annoyed people and made them leave a website without purchase.

After registration procedure became optional the number of purchases immediately increased by 45%. This is a good example how design actually influences your ROI. So the more you invest in it at early stages the more you get after launching a product.

Our example: Juuce iOS app

Juuce iOS app mobile application has minimalist and pure style in order to convey the idea of purity. Products can be quickly viewed, compared, liked or shared.

Navigation in the app is designed with micro animation, clear icons, and logo for better brand recognition. Background colors vary depending on the product and create a sense of integrity. All major features are easy to access. In order to provide best user experience the screen is designed to help user input and verify data in a simple and intuitive way.


To sum up, this topic let’s use the words of the icon of product design, Dieter Rams: “Design should not dominate things, should not dominate people. It should help people. That’s its role”. So the next time when you’ll discuss wanted design with developers team remember this quote. Because it is the key to your success.

But you probably want to see some total estimations. Well, we have one. However remember, that many different factors will influence your final price, like:

  • app complexity
  • Android/iOS app or both
  • type of the targeted devices
  • designer experience and geography etc.

To find out total cost we took an average and maximal hours needed to design an app with an average rate $50 per hour.

Average, hours Max, hours
Analyze app idea 20 40 150
Work on prototype
Wireframing 16 56 140
User experience design (UX) 8 24 200
Create visual design (UI) 16 88 200
Total, hours 60 208 690
Total, $ 3,000 10,400 34,500

As you can see the simplest app will cost you nearly $3,000 while complex application is worth at least $35,000. At the same time you could see slightly different prices above. This is because design process is really something that ‘depends’. So if you have a great idea and want to turn it into life contact us today to get an estimate of your app design cost.


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