How Much Does a Mobile App Design Cost

The skills that go into designing a mobile app and the factors that can impact the effort and cost for mobile app design.

33.8 Billion Dollars

That is the staggering forecast by Statista for worldwide non-game mobile app revenue in 2021. Companies like Airbnb and Facebook have built their business model around providing best-in-class customer experiences in their mobile applications and continue to use them as crucial channels for them to succeed in a crowded marketplace. Indeed, one of the ingredients in their secret sauce to billions of dollars in revenue can be attributed to their ability to consistently serve their customers with a smooth onboarding experience and delightful moments in their app design. So what makes them tick? Let us find out in detail.

The Importance of Mobile App Design

The barriers to building a mobile app have been significantly lowered in recent years. Thanks to a slew of low-code platforms, businesses can now create customer-facing apps in days or weeks. Platforms like Adalo and Outsystems enable the whole gamut to develop and deploy mobile apps to customers, making it a breeze with their ability to build for multiple mobile platforms.

However, packaging a set of screens on a mobile app does not necessarily correlate to a lucrative revenue channel that keeps customers coming back every day. According to Statista, almost 25% of the apps downloaded from app stores from 2010-2019 had been used only once. Building a mobile app and creating a billion-dollar revenue channel that keeps customers engaged are two completely different things. The main difference between the two essentially boils down to one key aspect - mobile app design.

In the last five years, the attention to mobile app development and design has gone from being an afterthought to the presence of design occupying a seat at the table at the highest executive level. According to Forrester, every dollar spent in user experience yields a return of 100$. It is no surprise that all the major technology companies like Apple and Google have been intentional in ensuring significant time and investment carved out for design initiatives, outreach, and talent.

Cost of app: The Different Elements of Mobile App Design Cost

That brings us to the main burning question - what constitutes mobile app design in the first place? Simply put, mobile app design costs would depend on the different disciplines mentioned below.

Customer Research

Designers involved in this discipline mainly help understand customer behavior and collect insights into what drives this behavior. Designers in this area are primarily responsible for assisting the broader product team to understand how customers go about their daily routines and design apps specifically to trigger these routines as a habit. They usually work hand in hand with the market research team to understand the customer innately.

Customer research can be done in a couple of weeks or can last a few months, depending on the time available to understand the customer. It is also intensive on the preparation and logistics, so ensure that your organization knows this can become a significant element of the design cost and effort.

User Experience (UX) Design

Designers in this area are primarily responsible for creating the information architecture and navigation for achieving customer outcomes. They utilize the research team's insights to develop app journeys and map out every possible path customers take to accomplish a goal. They are responsible for creating the screen flows and ensuring that the navigation patterns align with platform guidelines like Apple's Human Interface Guidelines and Google's Material Design.

UX Design is a core part of the app design effort, so these efforts and costs are an absolute must-have in the design costing.

Visual Design

Practitioners in this design area are mainly responsible for bringing the screen flows to life by creating high-fidelity visuals that align with the brand palette. They are responsible for ensuring they follow visual consistency for text and visual app elements across different customer channels and create design systems for this purpose.

Visual Design is also a core part of the app design effort.

Content Design

Designers in this area are primarily responsible for understanding how customers interpret the app's information and translate it to practical ways of displaying the right content at the right moment. They know how different forms of content, primarily copy on an app screen, can influence customer behavior, so they spend immense effort designing these content assets to improve the user interface and functionality for user engagement and task completion.

A lot of organizations are becoming aware of the importance of content design, so be informed that having a content design presence in your team can be hugely beneficial to the success of your overall app efforts.

Motion Design

Designers in this area are well versed in understanding how responses to customer actions can trigger acknowledgment and engagement. So they spend time and effort in ensuring that the app is responsive and delightful at crucial moments in the customer journey by adding transitional nudges in the app experience. It is a very underserved capability at present, as businesses building mobile apps are still waking up to the possibilities of how subtle transitions or animated nudges can change the way people perceive apps.

Motion application design skills are very crucial in media and content intensive apps, so ensure that you invest substantially in motion design efforts, if your app mvp deals with a huge base of customers consuming multiple forms of content.

Factors That Are Important Part of the App Design Cost

We read about the disciplines that constitute mobile app design. Now we will try to understand what factors we need to consider while evaluating the magnitude of the effort and talent required in designing a compelling mobile app. They are mainly four factors that play a substantial part, and they are as below:

Platform Considerations

The platform you choose for your mobile app is determined by the market you are building to launch the app - iOS apps are heavily used in countries like China and the United States, while Android apps dominate every other geography, according to Statista. Considering this spread, it could get extremely easy or rare to find the design talent experienced in your mobile platform choice, which can drive up your app design costing too.

Number of screens

The number of screens that your app will contain will also determine the amount of time and investment in your design effort. Creating an initial estimate of the feature set required will help your team arrive at the number of screens. In turn, this number could influence the number of designers your team will need to design this app completely.

The app navigation also becomes more complex with an increasing number of screens. So not only would the app design effort increase, but the overall build and testing effort and costing for the app would increase proportionally.

App Development complexity

Depending on whom you ask, mobile app design can take weeks to months because this is tied to the level of complexity your business demands. If your business use case requires intensive integration to device-level hardware like Camera or GPS, designing the app and testing the design with customers will take significant time and effort. In sharp contrast, if your use case enables the design team to use the mobile platform's standard components, the design team can work faster to create design workflows and assets for the product team.

App complexity could also lead to your design talent search becoming narrower with each specific feature. If your app needs to incorporate newer technology involving Augmented Reality or Face ID, then your talent search could get longer and your pricing options could be significantly higher.

Team Mix and Team Location

Your design team's geographic location and the design team mix can impact your design costs and efforts tremendously. If your app requires extensive customer research or requires many custom transitions to build a compelling design experience, then the skills needed to design your app could vary significantly to increase the design cost.

Let us dive deep into additional considerations in this area:

1. Freelance Talent versus Agency

We could hire a set of mobile app freelancer designers from platforms like Toptal, Upwork, or Fiverr. Or we could hire a digital agency that combines all these skills under one managed umbrella. The table below should help you decide:

2. Local versus Remote

The cost to design your apps would vary greatly depending on the location you choose to recruit your talent. Design costs are the highest when you want local talent in the US. The costs could go down as you consider Europe and further lower to Asia. Asian countries, particularly India, are regarded as popular outsourcing destinations for high-quality design talent being available at an attractive price point. Eastern European countries, specifically Ukraine, have also come as a viable contender for outsourcing design activities for the price point offered.

According to Payscale, UX design talent's median rate in the United States is $35 per hour. However, the hourly rate could vary widely from $25 to $70, depending on the location and model chosen. The pricing could go up much further, depending on your sourcing talent level (junior, mid-level, or senior).

Designing an award-winning app: It takes an entire village

Mobile app design is just one piece of the app success puzzle. Companies need to spend an equal share of their commitment to time and effort in building engineering, data, and marketing teams to ensure that the app is successful and enjoys a massive and loyal customer base. Companies like Facebook spend millions of dollars to ensure their apps provide the most compelling user experience, but this is a joint collaborative effort among all their teams to make them successful. Building such compelling apps requires substantial investment in talent and technology and an ample amount of patience over the years to build these apps, which could bring in billions of dollars in revenue.

We created this reference guide to help you understand the different aspects of designing a mobile app. We know the costs could vary significantly by your use case, so we have developed a comprehensive cost calculator to get you a breakdown of not only app design but your end-to-end app development effort.

Try out our app development cost calculator today to learn more!