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Does every solution need to be an app? From my work consulting clients and teaching aspiring UX designer, I feel as if everyone wants to release the next great app idea on the market. At the same time, I hear people grumbling, “don’t make me download your stupid app.” App fatigue is real, but we are still trying to flood an already saturated market. Now, the conversation is turning towards the post app era.

UX design and app fatigue

I remember that day when this feeling first became palpable. On March 13, 2016 at SXSW, a friend and I walked out of a talk that quickly devolved into a marketing pitch. The speaker attracted us with a catchy title such as, “The End of Social Media.” The opening content hooked us with outlining the pain that we all feel from social media feed overload. Then he lost us when he revealed his new app idea that promised to take away all of these problems.

Of course there is an app for that

The iPhone created the app market, and Google quickly followed. At first, we euphorically discovered all of the things we never knew we wanted to do on the go. Our lives were liberated from fixed desktops and clunky laptops.

As the UX field evolved, we learned that mobile experiences with a singular focus seemed to work best. Swim Army juggernauts such as Facebook started breaking up their apps. Now, we have Facebook and Messenger. To a lesser degree, we have Foursquare and Swarm. Side note: I still check in with Swarm even though no one cares where I eat lunch.

app fatigue facebook messenger app chat bot - Image credit:

Facebook Messenger App. A recent example of splitting out experiences from a more complex app.

Swarm Foursquare App Fatigue

Swarm recently split out from Foursquare as an effort to focus the game portion into one app

Yes, we have less clunky apps, but the bloat is overflowing onto our phones with numerous apps and siloed experiences.

Problems with the app store model

If we consider how people typically use their phones. We tend to rely on them for quick interactions when we are in a pinch or bored. In order to do this, we need to go through the following hoops to access content and data.

Initial Setup

  1. Go to an app store
  2. Create an account with that app store
  3. Search or browser for an app that might a need
  4. Download app
  5. Create an account with that app
  6. Go back to no. 3 and repeat

Regular Access

  1. Search or browse for app
  2. Open app
  3. Complete task
  4. Repeat for another app

Unintended consequences

  1. Overly distributed profile info
  2. Unruly app notifications
  3. Crowded home screen

There is also the errors that happen when app updates do not line up with OS updates. All of these obstacles and complexities compound and eat away at our experiences.

Looking beyond apps

Apple, Google and to some extent Amazon are already working on building and connecting ecosystems that connect apps and hardware. John Palvus writes in his article in Wired, “Apple and Google Race to See Who Can Kill the App First,” that people are not leaving apps because of the experience. They are making their decisions based on connectivity. Does the experience and data work seamlessly across devices?

The tech community is also asking the obvious question, “does the solution need to be an app?” This question correlated with the rise of chatbots in the past couple of years. Ironically, a lot of the excitement came out of a SXSW 2016 talk about conversational UI

Can we address all if not some of our mobile needs through a simple chat conversation in Messenger or Slack? A lot of the industry seems to think it is possible. With a quick Google search, here is a list of known chatbots on Messenger

WeChat App Fatque Post app era

WeChat is one of the early examples of leveraging chat interactions to complete tasks

Closing thoughts

My creative directors have always cautioned me to question the usefulness of a trusted tool or strategy. These things are only good until they are not. If you just use a hammer, then you will only assume the solution is to nail things down. As designers, we need to consider the appropriateness of the solution. Are we forcing people down the path of UI based interactions when there might be a more simple approach?

Matt Eng

Matt Eng

DesignOps Manager. Based in Austin,TX. Worked with clients such as Alcatel-Lucent, Ogilvy, RBC, Deloitte, Whirlpool, Polycom, Symantec, and Pebble. Matt teaches, mentors, and speaks about design, creativity, and fostering stronger connections within teams.