How to design a mobile app in Figma - a short guide for those just starting out

Hooray! It’s finally come time to design your first mobile application. While many platforms, programs, and applications exist for this very purpose (e.g.,, Sketch, UXPin, Marvel, etc.), one of the most popular and not without a sound reason is still a browser-supported interface design platform called Figma.

This tool has acquired widespread acclaim by being very easy to work with, enabling fast prototyping and design processes, and efficient collaboration. Overall, Figma is cherished for being an all-in-one tool for website and mobile app designers. This is probably why you’ve chosen it in the first place.

Take it from the mobile application design agency that creating frontend design for your mobile application is all about the process and the tools you use. You’ve made up your mind about the latter. Let’s walk you through the process next.

Before we jump straight into the design tutorial, don’t forget to check out our piece on evaluation methods for mobile app design for insights on how to differentiate a good application design from a rather mediocre one.

Figma app design tutorial

Since Figma supports vector prototyping and shared code, it promotes and streamlines collaboration in design projects, which is ideal because, chances are, you are working on your mobile app design with your teammates and want everyone to be able to chip in and share their ideas.

Before you design your application, make sure you’ve done user and market research. Gather the insights and only then attempt to create your product. This is the basis of user-centric design.

Create a Figma file

First, you need to start your new project. If you had any previous ones or already attempted to begin your design journey, they’ll be located in your Drafts. If you are creating a new one, click “+” at the top left corner of Figma’s toolbar on your screen.

Starting your new project in Figma
Starting your new project in Figma

Learn the toolbar

The next thing you should do is get acquainted with the interface. The very first hamburger button, again in the top left corner, is the dropdown menu.

From left to right, next, come the tool buttons: in a shape of an arrow, an art board, a rectangle, a pen, and a type tool, clicking on which will give you access to all the tools you’ll be using most in your project - shapes, frames, text, etc.

4 out of 5 have drop-downs as well, enabling you to access even more options within these tools. Next to it is the chat icon - you can use it to leave messages for your teammates.

Then come the options in the middle, displaying either the tools you’ve selected or your project’s name. The last buttons in the toolbar are the share button for when you want to prototype with others, the play button that lets you present your designs, and the eye icon for accessing other settings.

Other essential parts of Figma’s interface below the dark toolbar include Layers (on the left), Canvas (in the center), and Inspector (on the right). Layers show you every element, group, or component in your current project, all grouped as well.

Canvas is where you create and work on your designs, and, finally, the Inspector is basically the project’s properties panel, where you can switch from design to prototype to code, and vice versa, and also change colors, background, effects, etc.

Wireframe an app landing page

Your app’s landing page is one of the most important things since its primary use is to convert your visitors into loyal clients. Besides looking polished and aesthetically pleasing, a landing page design has a few essential elements that you have to consider.

A wireframe is an overly simplistic and superficial sketch of a page (in our case, a mobile app landing page), serving as a low-fidelity visual representation of how everything will look like and work. It contains only key interface elements.

A typical mobile app wireframe will contain elements like shapes (circles, rectangles, etc), boxes, placeholders, and grey lines to create a coherent illustration of the future page. At this stage, there are no logos, images, colors (mostly just grayscale), etc.

The standard set of elements will include content hierarchy, basic app features, possible user actions, space between elements, and possible transitions between pages.

Here are a couple tips for creating a successful landing page wireframe:

Follow the visual hierarchy, meaning - the most crucial elements are given the utmost attention, making them noticeable straight away through size and surrounding space;

Highlight your value proposition with convincing headlines, calls to action, and quality content - copy, images, videos, etc.

App landing page design by Merge
App landing page design by Merge 

Add plugins

When working with Figma, you might want to also add some plugins. They are third-party add-ons (applications, scripts, programs) that help extend the functionality, optimize the workflow, or just simply add a lot of extra customization options to your project.

Whatever plugin you choose, they usually come with instructions on how to install and use them and a version history.

A few plugins to try: Remove BG (a background remover for images), Font Preview (to help you pick the right font), Color Contrast Checker, UI Gradients, Iconify (to choose nice icons), etc.

In general, to add a plugin to your project, you should first search for them directly in the Figma Community. In the top-left corner, click Explore Community, and then Plugins OR do a right-click on your canvas and select Plugins.

Do a bit of roaming around to find the preferred plugin solutions (filter by category, tag, name, keyword, and trends), then click Install or Save.

To run your selected plugins, follow the instructions of a specific plugin since they can vary - some you can use immediately, and some require extra steps in the settings. Any plugin has to be run manually, and only one at a time.

Establish asset library

After you’ve created the initial wireframe of all the pages, not just your landing page, define and map out the desired user flow in a form of a chart that specifies what sequence of actions a user will take to complete a particular task.

Then you need to create a frame (or, in other words, an Art-board) on your canvas, which will serve as a container or a vessel for all your design elements and also limit your space so you will work to optimize the structure for each screen.

The frames may vary a little depending on what type of device you’re designing for. You can use a pre-set size from the Inspector on the right.

The next step is to set up an asset library as a way of keeping your files in the project organized. In general, a library helps reuse styles and components across all your files - you can select the ones you want to share, publish them, and access them later.

After clicking (+) in the upper-left corner, and locating Library, click Create new library, then name it, and click Create. After that, click the three dots and Edit details. Finally, manage your Permissions. To add assets to the library, use drag-and-drop.

Create a layout grid

At this stage, you should set out a clear hierarchy for your mobile app’s design elements. For that, a content layout grid is needed, which is basically a collection of boxes of different sizes and the amount of space between them and also the space near the edges.

To do this, click (+) again, with your Frame selected, under the Layout grid. Choose the preferred count of columns, their gutter (the space between them), and their margins (that space at the edges). After that, you need to pay attention in the future if everything is aligned correctly.

Start adding content to your wireframe

Once you move from low-fidelity wireframes to more high-fidelity ones, you need to start adding more content to it. All the different shapes and shades of grey boxes need to be replaced with the final content of the pages. Fill those boxes with images, illustrations, text (actual copy, not Lorem Ipsum), etc.

By adding content at this point, you also test if all the final elements are an excellent fit for the screen, as the fake text and vague grey blocks aren’t an accurate representation of what the app screen will look like in the end. You might need to tweak some of the design choices.

Shape and create components. Components are pieces you can reuse in your designs. They promote consistency across your project and help you control your most frequently used UI elements.

For instance, you can change all the elements simultaneously by updating only one part of it. To create a component, simply choose all the layers you want to combine, then right-click and select Create Component.

Basically, you can create your components from any previously made objects or layers - icons, buttons, layouts, etc. The main component will determine the properties, and an instance is a copy you can actually reuse.

We've also created Figma Mobile App templates that allow you to create beautiful applications, improve and speed up your design workflow. Check them out!

Free Figma Mobile UI Kit by Merge Development
Free Figma Mobile UI Kit by Merge Development

Prototype

The prototype is the highest-fidelity representation of your application’s design with a much more pronounced attention to detail, such as animations, final fonts, and all the final little UI elements.

To prototype, switch from Design to Prototype in the Inspector panel. Then it’s best to rename your Frames to make them more distinctive.

The next thing is to create links and connections between Frames and their respective elements so then when you show your prototype, the elements will be linked to where they are supposed to go.

Finally, to display your prototype, press Play in the toolbar.

Start your app design in Figma

This concludes our brief tutorial on designing your mobile application in Figma. If you have any questions, and you most certainly do, since this piece is just an introductory outline of what it actually takes to create a complete design for your app, feel free to contact our Merge team.

In case you think you need to design your mobile application faster and more professionally, our designers are most joyous to help. All we need from you is your requirements for your project.

Serhii Hyliuk

Head of Growth

Head of Growth and Customer Success. I'm interested in design, new tech, fashion, exploring new places and languages. My mission is to make our clients happy.

Head of Growth and Customer Success. I'm interested in design, new tech, fashion, exploring new places and languages. My mission is to make our clients happy.

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