The best mobile apps are frequently so easy to use and so intuitively designed that many people underestimate the amount of work it takes to design a good app. Anybody can design an app, but the first few iterations of the app will likely make little sense to your target users. It takes painstaking work to focus on the user’s task and remove distractions. According to John Houghton, CEO of MobileCast Media, designing an app is “Similar to the example of Olympic athletes and how effortless they make their feats appear. Good apps make it look easy, but it takes a lot of work to get there.”

This sentiment is echoed throughout the industry. According to Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, “It’s easy to add; it’s hard to edit – it’s hard to focus.” Most first time app developers do not know enough to focus, and if you take a look beyond the top apps in the app stores, you’ll see just how unintuitive the average app is.

Most of our experience with apps is in dealing with the most popular apps, so we usually only see the best built and most well thought-out designs. In developing a blockbuster app, one can easily spend a thousand hours or more in development. For example, Apple is famous for working and reworking until they are satisfied. Then the app is released, not for distribution but for extensive usability testing. Usability testing sometimes reveals new insights, which necessitate starting over and redesigning the app from scratch. Iterating from design to usability testing is a great way to make an app more intuitive.

The other concept that most would-be designers need to understand is that what is intuitive to the app creator is not necessarily intuitive to the user. One must put himself in the shoes of the user, therefore, and see things from the user’s point of view.

The successful experience designer studies user interface conventions by looking at how the most popular apps behave. For example, say a movie or a note from your iOS device requires a left swipe to delete in Apple’s popular apps. Many other apps follow suit. The problem comes when the designer specifies something different, say a right swipe or a new gesture. That will be very unintuitive to users, but you see these mistakes all the time in apps.

In order to become more familiar with apps, some people decide to abandon their PC for a month and to use only their smartphone and its apps. This strategy goes a long way toward providing familiarity with current apps and helps people design more intuitive apps. Patterns of usage, established in the experience of the user, are cultural and based on what has come before.

Creating intuitive apps is hard work, but by studying apps, by getting to know your user, and by iterating your designs based on feedback, it is possible to create an intuitive user experience.