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How to Sell More Apps With Well Designed Screenshots

This post is part of a series called iPhone Design 101.
5 Steps for Wireframing and Paper Prototyping Mobile Apps

This article will discuss a critical component of App Store success: well-crafted screenshots. Your prospective customers WILL "judge a book by its cover", so taking the time necessary to create screenshots that sell is well worth the effort. This is the last post in the 10-part iPhone Design 101 series, so please comment to suggest any mobile design topics you would like to see in 2011!

Let's take our pulse for a second. How do YOU feel about App Store screenshot design? Consider some of the following, common responses to that question:

  • Screenshot design? Aren't screenshots. . .just screenshots?
  • Ugh, screenshots. Just let me upload the binary already!
  • I already spent my budget on the app design!

Sound familiar? I can relate to some of these comments, especially when it's so close to launch that you can taste it! In this article, we're going to take a look at how the often overlooked App Store screenshot can advertise your app in a big way.

Take Your Market From “Hmmm. I’m not sure.” To “Wow. I’ve got to have this!”

It’s funny how much time we spend shopping for products that set us back just a couple of bucks. Whatever the warped psychological reasons, the fact remains that a fair amount of consideration goes into deciding which apps we add to our collections.

How Do We Decide Which Apps To Buy?

Before we get into what makes great iTunes screenshots, let’s talk about how snapshots or screenshots influence online buying decisions. There’s a great article on Copyblogger about how Google’s Instant Previews are hurting sales for poorly designed web sites.

Google realizes that in order to provide the highest quality results, a match based purely on content quality is great, but people also want to see sites that appear to be of visual quality as well! In this example, a “buying decision” is made when a user decides to click on the screenshot...or not.

The same philosophy holds true in App Store. People want to buy high quality applications, and that includes both functional and aesthetic quality. It’s easy to hastily pull together screenshots at the end of the project, sometimes right before submitting the app for review, but doing so can damage your sales before they begin! So, let’s look at the importance those screens have in the sales process.

The Sales Process

Let’s say I’m traveling to New York and need to find the best app to help navigate the subways while I’m visiting. I fully intend on buying an app, the only question I have is which one to buy. My purchasing process will go something like this:

  1. Search App Store for "NYC Subway"
  2. When I start to type in “NYC” the list starts to auto populate
  3. I search the grid of icons for an app with:
    1. Good quality
    2. A name that matches what i want
    3. Three stars or higher
  4. I dive into one selection
  5. Read description
  6. Scroll down to screenshots

Screenshots Are The Selling Point

Most people who dive into a specific app will skim the description looking for some kind of keyword(s) that confirms the app will do what they need. Then, the skimming moves to a more intense study of screenshots to further confirm the app is:

  1. Acceptable quality
  2. Does what I want
  3. Looks easy to use

Well-Designed Screenshots That Sell

Bear Grylls - Bear Essentials ($6.99) - I’m having a difficult time resisting the obvious joke here: “Who wouldn’t want to see this guy’s Bare Essentials?” Sorry, I had to go there. Anyhow, for those of you interested in what Bear really has to offer, this app is an awesome collection of games, tips, and tools for helping you to survive in the “Wiiiiilds of Alabamer”.

In the App Store, $6.99 is a relatively hefty price tag. Bear’s app marketers knew $6.99 would take a little selling in the screenshots, and they do so perfectly. Each screenshot has a description in black to communicate exactly what each screen in the app does.

  1. The first screenshot presents a sneak peak at the types of instructional videos you can expect: navigation, water, and knots. The typeface gives the app the rugged, outdoor appeal of Bear and his Man vs. Wild T.V. show.
  2. Screenshot two shows how you can test your knowledge, and it’s not with boring radio buttons! Everything works together seamlessly from a design standpoint.
  3. The interactive training guide is beautifully illustrated - quality!
  4. This is where the “mini games” label comes in handy. If I saw just a screenshot of the illustrations, I may not know they were showing games.
  5. “Watch, compass and torch accessories” again, great labeling, and beautifully illustrated tools.

Wunderlist Task Manager - When are people going to stop trying to get things done? Will we ever just give up? Probably not, but we can still try to improve how we’re selling using great design. Wunderlist does a great job of thinking about what the user wants:

  1. The very first screenshot this app shows hits LOTS of hot points for people looking for  task managers:
    1. Cloud Sync
    2. Great Interface
    3. Change Your Look
    4. Completely free
    5. And what the design says visually supports ALL of the above four points!
  1. Add notes. This screenshot showcases the simple “edit task note” screen but with the added “add notes” at the bottom, you get that confirmation.
  2. Easy in-app tutorial. The visual shows you the quick and easy in-app tutorial.
  3. Overdue tasks. Every screen they show keeps going back to the points they highlight on the first screenshot: looks great and easy to use. Overdue tasks are easy to find.
  4. Choose from different backgrounds. Some people spend a lot of time in task managers and it’s an added “design-related” selling point to give this app an advantage over the competition AND fun options for their customers.

Screenshots That Do Not Sell

Everything about screenshot design must convey that the app is of good quality. Screenshots must also point out specifics about the app that will appeal to potential buyers, but may not be immediately obvious or noticeable. What you want to avoid is this:

What you do not gather from these screenshots is they are advertising a pretty awesome app, Docs to Go. What does this app do? Well, let’s see:

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, it allows you to view powerpoint, pdf, iwork and other files with 2-way sync, gmail attachments, supports windows/mac extensive cell and number formatting, retains original document formatting of edited files through inTact Technology (who cares??) extensive character formatting and paragraph alignment, synchronize entire folders or individual files....

Wow. The sentence above illustrates the brain explosion these screenshots create.

The point of this example is to say adding notes to screenshots is a great way to punctuate features of interest. Just don’t overdo it!


What do y’all think? Have you experimented with creating custom screenshots and seen any lift in sales? Leave comments below about what you have seen!

Before We End: Who Are YOU?

Before I end this series, I have to ask:  who are you? i have been wondering what kind of people are following this series and would love to have a better idea of how I can improve the content of my articles for everyone. Take the poll below and let me know!

I'm Interested in mobile design, and I am a:Market Research

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