Defining complex applications is a challenge in itself, particularly because the term ‘complex’ is vague. What could be a complex app to develop and manage for one team could be relatively simpler for another. But that said, there certainly are a few indicators. For instance, an app created with IoT integration to predict the weather based on real-time data is more complex than an application to make grocery shopping lists. In addition to high skill, knowledge, and extensive experience, the former requires a deep level of sophistication, patience, and collaboration.

Unsurprisingly, designing such applications that have multiple layers of complexities – from architecture to data process to workflow – is not easy.
To help make sense of it, here are 5 design guidelines for complex applications:

1. Ease The Learning Curve

The more a user uses the app, the more they will learn and get better at using it. But as a designer, your priority should be to provide an efficient learning curve. While a person can self-learn through trial and error, it’s your responsibility to navigate them in the right direction that ensures they learn efficiently and quickly. The goal is to create a design that guides and gets users accustomed to the app, enabling them to become a power user with the know-how of shortcuts and hidden features.

2. Keep It Clean And Simple

The solution the app delivers might be complex, but its design shouldn’t! This is the most fundamental guideline of designing any kind of mobile and web application. Keep it clean and simple! Make sure the interface isn’t crowded and overwhelming. Its offerings should be upfront and convenient to access. The entire structure of the app should be easy to understand.

3. Prioritize Primary And Secondary Information

Depending on the intent of the app, there might be a lot to say and display. But there’s only so much a user can attend at any given time. This is why it’s important to prioritize the primary and secondary information in the design – i.e., information that a user can know and the information the user must know. Prioritize the right information. Avoid information overload. Tell the users what they must know; the rest should be secondary.

4. Ensure Fluid Navigation

Don’t hide the navigation; don’t make it several clicks away. Ensure the users can conveniently browse through the application without feeling lost or wondering how to jump to a certain page. Even a one-second delay in navigation can cause them to lose their attention and, eventually, their interest. So, ensure ease and fluidity in navigation.

5. Focus on user experience

While this goes without saying, it’s worth noting just because it is so important. Even if your application has high utility value and there are fewer alternatives, you simply cannot afford to have lapses in the UX department. It’s bad for brand value and retention. Plus, it always leaves your business in a vulnerable position of being taken over by competitors. So, the application must be effectively optimized to deliver users a great experience. It demands informed decision-making in every aspect of designing the app – right from choosing its color scheme to outlining its structure.


These are five essential design guidelines for complex applications. Of course, there are plenty of other factors –from its accessibility to user-centricity to visual hierarchy – that you should keep in mind while designing the app. In the end, the key is to not just know what you want to make but also what your target audience wants to use. Relying on data for making decisions isn’t optional; it’s essential. Remember, a complex application can be complex at the backend, but its design should never be complex for the users.

– – –

Are you looking for an experience-driven digital solution for your product or service?
Author Pepper Square
Over the last 20 years, we have helped 350+ leading companies maximize their outcomes with UI UX Design, UI Dev, Software Dev, and Analytics.

How to hire an expert on-demand UX designer?

5 Tools to Improve User Flow with Great UX