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Why Do Many Apps Look Just the Same? What Are the Benefits?

Why Do Many Apps Look Just the Same? What Are the Benefits?

Is everything a copy? Maybe a copy of a copy? With the launch of Instagram Reels at the beginning of August 2020 in the US, many users might have started to answer this question, yes. As many experienced it already, Instagram Reels allows users to record and edit short videos with music soundtracks, like TikTok. Is this the first time apps look similar to each other? Although many might feel like Instagram and Facebook Stories have been there since the beginning, the credit for stories goes to Snapchat. It is not only Facebook apps starting to look like other apps. Many others including Twitter, Airbnb, Google, etc. are taking features and design ideas from other companies, which is not necessarily a bad thing. In this blog post, we will talk about the positive sides of apps looking like each other for user experience from a design perspective.

Complexion Reduction

One can say that today’s apps aren’t even designed at all. Many apps have big, bold headlines, minimal black and white interfaces with a lot of negative space. Instagram once had a dark blue header, Lyft had bright pink colors, now they are gone.

Image: Michael Horton, Complexion Reduction: A New Trend In Mobile Design

Michael Horton explains this trend of bigger, bolder headlines; simpler, more universal icons; and extraction of color sweeping across Silicon Valley as complexion reduction. This uniformity allows designers to get less worried about making an app “pretty” and to focus more on creating the best app and providing the best user experience.

Fighting against App Fatigue and Cognitive Overload

Nowadays, there are too many apps for everything. As of the first quarter of 2020, the App Store and Google Play have over 4 million apps combined. This abundance leads users to suffer from “app fatigue.”

Imagine having ten social media apps with ten quite different interfaces and ways of operation, such as different hand gestures required for navigation. That would cause a cognitive overload in users since they have to build new mental models every time they switch between apps. Instead, using familiar elements and features lowers users’ cognitive load and improves their learning cycle. Cognitive load refers to the total amount of information your working memory can handle or the number of working memory resources.

Apps usually have these problems, especially when they redesign their apps. Remember Snapchat’s redesign back in 2018? Many of the users abandoned the app due to that redesign, and Kylie Jenner tweeted, “sooo does anyone else not open Snapchat anymore? Or is it just me… ugh this is so sad.” Although it was a debate whether it was Kylie Jenner who caused Snapchat’s stocks to fall, it was clear that users didn’t appreciate this redesign, and Snapchat had to make other design changes.

Image: BBC

This Snapchat example is just one in several design praises and mess-ups. It is the user and their behavior that should guide the interface design of any project.

Don Norman, an expert in design and co-founder of the Nielsen Norman Group, says, “Good design is actually a lot harder to notice than poor design, in part because good designs fit our needs so well that the design is invisible.” This is how many users feel when they are using apps with a smooth user experience.

Increased Usability

Jakob Nielsen from Nielsen Norman Group defines usability as a quality attribute that assesses how easy user interfaces are to use. A product’s usability is built on various factors, such as learnability, memorability, satisfaction, etc. One should ask whether this app is easy for a first-time user to get familiar with, understand, and navigate. When a user comes back to this app later, are they comfortable with using it? Is it easy for them to remember the interface and how to use this app? How satisfied are the users with the user interface of this app? Such questions help you understand whether an app is usable or not.

Apps with similar interfaces, similar features reduce the discomfort a first-time user might experience. Since the user already knows how to use the app, they can focus on completing the tasks instead of learning how to use the app, which results in better efficiency.

Consistency across different apps also another factor that improves usability. Imagine you are shopping online; your eyes look for a shopping cart or a basket if you want to view what you are buying or complete your purchase. These standardizations decrease the confusion and frustrations of users and improve user experience and usability.

Wrap Up

Brands replicating each other both in terms of design and features, in a way, may want to control every aspect of users’ lives by making sure that they keep using their products. However, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t bringing value to users’ lives, which is the core aim of any good product. The sameness we come across on different apps doesn’t mean that they stopped providing value, being creative, or being a brand. Limiting creative design to pretty animations, bright colors, and only what is on the screen limits where design can go. Branding isn’t just colors and shapes; it is providing a valuable product to the user. So, this uniformity handled mostly from the design point of view improves the user experience by perfecting usability.

At Storyly, we believe that stories are an impressive way to bring a fresh perspective into your app to avoid app fatigue by eliminating complexity. Check how you can dive into the world of stories to increase your app’s value with Storyly.


Berkem Peker

Berkem is master of none, jack of all trades. Happens to be a Growth Strategist at Storyly. Knows/writes about growth frameworks and user behavior.

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