WeChat Mini Program Design: Principles & Practices to Avoid

Kwon Billingsley

Arguably one of the most creative innovations to come out of the Chinese digital landscape, WeChat Mini Programs (MPs) are at the forefront of disrupting how consumers interact with apps. What’s equally impressive is that MPs have no notable counterpart in the West. With more than 600 million users and over 1.5 million developers leveraging a brands reach, it’s simply impossible to ignore the boundless potential of how MPs serve as a digital marketing tool in China. This raises reasonable concerns for Apple and Google Play considering that WeChat is becoming more of the de facto operating system for Chinese users.

Nowadays, brands are facing creative challenges for launching increasingly sophisticated MPs. In fact, there are over 1 million MPs on the market with the average user opening at least 4 per day, but not all MPs are bug-free and user-friendly. While user retention rates are rising, the majority of MPs still suffer from low user retention. Users expect a lot from these programs – fast loading time, slick interface and a seamless user interaction experience. In this highly competitive market, a captivating user experience and design separates the successful MPs from the forgettable ones. That’s why we’re delivering you the most common design principles and practice mistakes. Avoiding these treacherous design practices will help generate favorable user retention rates for a stellar MP.

 

Overly cluttered interfaces that lack basic navigation

WeChat Mini Program is a relatively new complex piece of technology and needs to be approached with caution. Your WeChat Mini Program developer needs to know the in’s and out’s of mini program coding along with a deep understanding of what it means to be a Chinese consumer. Your MP should be built to withstand the hyperactivity of the WeChat ecosystem. MP design is meant to be simplistic and usually consists of 2-4 navigation tabs. Presenting countless number of elements on a page or providing too many functions all at once will lead to cognitive overload. Overly congested MP pages can cause UI performance issues, raise bounce rates and lead to a poor user experience. On the other hand, a lack of basic functions and navigation can cause the same issues especially if the user isn’t familiar with your MP. Your main goal should be to satisfy a users’ specific needs with a simple layout and transparent flow outline. Difficulty searching within a MP is a key reason why a user will abandon an MP altogether.

 

wagas

Wagas makes getting back to the home screen a bit difficult by not having a bottom menu.

 

Limiting the value of Mini Programs for the occasional user hype

Users approach Mini Programs with the occasional usage mentality and many brands design MPs with this approach in mind, but that’s not exactly the right mindset to have especially depending on the type of service and product that you offer. MPs are here to stay and have a lot of room for growth. Brands should place a high emphasis on finding creative solutions to convert occasional users to frequent users while encouraging them to use MPs for as long as possible. One of the most effective ways to do this is by providing constant, on-going value to your users. By utilizing MP performance tracking, you can optimize your design for visual appeal or revamp certain fields that cause high abandonment, which can lead to higher retention rates. However, some MPs require less usage due to the nature of the service such as booking a flight. It will be more beneficial to the user if the MP only addresses specific tasks with easy navigation for services that only require occasional usage. You should be especially aware of this if it’s the case for your product or service. It’s important to implement a minimalistic design catered to specific user needs and plan accordingly.

 

McDonald’s has several MPs to serve specific user needs and offers user incentives to promote frequent usage.

 

Lack of omni-channel and core functionality support

Mini Programs are at the center of omni-channel engagement on WeChat and can offer instant avenues for consumer decision making. Developers should take the entire user journey into consideration before designing O2O tactics that may fall short due to a lack of planning. Brands have the ability to connect up to 13 different MPs to their official WeChat account, so the opportunity for a personalized MP experience has a wide range of possibilities. Some brands have the tendency of replicating their native app and leaving out essential functions that users are familiar with on the MP. If you have a large and complex app, it might be more useful to split up core functions into multiple MPs. However, having too many MPs can be overbearing for the user.  Channel switching can also be a bit tricky. Users find the ability to complete all functions within one MP a major factor in influencing their shopping decisions. It’s important to offer content or some kind of user incentive before asking a user to leave your MP or join an official account.  You should also make sure to leave a link to your official page or native app in case your MP doesn’t offer certain services that users may want.

 

hazzys

Hazzys offers a check out feature on their MP, but don’t include any information or link to their official account. Channel switching should be seamless.

 

Lack of API integration

WeChat provides many APIs for developers to create customized MP features and allows users to have seamless navigation throughout the WeChat ecosystem. APIs increase user conversion rates but many brands fail to utilize all of the different APIs that WeChat has to offer. Implementing autofill options such as login information, phone numbers and addresses gives users a more seamless interaction and the ability to enjoy one-click payments. You should only display a login pop-up window when it’s absolutely necessary. Too often brands ask for login information before a user can even view any of their products or services. You can also take advantage of geo-location sharing to help provide users with more location based tips, services and offer O2O perks to encourage spending.  Or even attract customers through time-limit marketing that offers deals available only for a small window of time. Utilizing these API resources not only offers users with faster service, but also contributes to helping brands give all the proper benefits to users at the right time and place, while gathering a wealth of data to revamp and perfect your current APIs.

 

burberry

Users can’t view products or services before getting asked to login on the Burberry MP. This could lead to MP abandonment.

 

Insufficient loading strategy and contingency plan

While instant Mini Program response is always best, there will be times when it won’t be able to comply with the guidelines for speed due to the small size of the MP and loading capabilities.  A users’ wait time starts the moment the MP screen is tapped and your design should give some visual feedback to communicate that it has received the request. Skeleton screens, content placeholders and loading bars are great ways to focus user attention on progress instead of wait times. Animations should be used with caution considering that they can leave a heavy footprint on a MPs performance. By taking account of different networking conditions amongst your users, you will greatly reduce the users’ uncertainty about reusing your MP. It’s also important to have a contingency plan for potential errors and to account for users with different phone models and WeChat versions. Your MP should be responsive for all phone layouts and you should consider upgrade prompts for outdated WeChat versions.

 

uniqlo

If a user denies sharing location on Uniqlo, the user is left with the white screen of death.

 

We’ve only listed a few common design principles and practice mistakes, but there is so much more you should look out for when designing your Mini Program. As mentioned before, MPs are a relative new technology, so you should plan for continuous improvements based on a concrete strategy with Chinese users in mind. Don’t expect to build the perfect MP on your first try. Thorough testing will ensure your team delivers a one of a kind product. A great digital interface is the perfect combination of beauty and functionality, and that is exactly what you should be striving for when building your MP.

 
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Kwon Billingsley
Kwon Billingsley

Kwon Billingsley is an entrepreneur, digital marketer and media contributor.

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