As more and more people turn to mobile devices for their internet use, agencies are turning their attention to developing mobile applications and websites. This is where user experience comes in driving their success (or failure).
Helping people navigate should be the top priority for designers and developers, because savvy users no longer have the patience to deal with bad design. If a mobile site is difficult to navigate or the features of an app are hidden, chances are high that person will abandon the interface altogether. In fact, 48 percent of users say that if they arrive on a business site that isn’t working well on mobile, they take it as an indication of the business simply not caring. The good news is that the field of mobile user experience is growing, and trained UX professionals can create innovative solutions that balance form and function.
Designing for mobile has its own set of best practices, and there are unique skill sets involved. As design resource UX For The Masses puts it, “A lot of what works on desktop, simply doesn’t on mobile.” That’s why the mobile UX field has drawn industry focus in recent years.
5 Mobile User Experience Tips
While designing for mobile is a complex process, the following guidelines provide a foundational starting point.
Understand Your Audience and Design for Their Goals
When designing for mobile, focusing on the user is key. This means streamlining the interface so that no unnecessary features are included, along with creating a design that is “quick, nimble, focused and stripped down,” according to UX For The Masses. Designers should consider what users are aiming to accomplish and determine how best to help them get there.
For a clear understanding of users, it’s smart to complete detailed research into their attitudes and behaviors. Armed with this data, you can design for your target audience and put yourself in the mind of the user from pre-planning to launch.
Design Hand Controls Based on Hand Position
In his research on mobile device usage, Steven Hoober found that 49 percent of people use just one thumb to navigate their smartphones. Statistics like this mean that designers have to pay close attention to hand position and grip when designing app and web interfaces. Putting common actions in easy-to-reach areas of the screen enables users to more easily interact with apps and mobile sites.
To ensure that a design is functional, it is important to test its ergonomics with a wide variety of people and devices. Seeing how people interact with the interface can give you insight into design functionality.
Minimize the Amount of Typing Required
Anyone who has used a mobile device knows that typing on a touch screen is a slow and difficult process. Good UX design uses typing sparingly and only when strictly necessary. There are a few ways to do this: “Keep forms as short and simple as possible by removing any unnecessary fields. Use auto-complete and personalized data where appropriate so that users only have to enter the bare minimum of information,” user experience resource UX Planet suggests.
A mobile site or app should also remember addresses, phone numbers and other details so that the user only has to enter them once. Some other good tactics are to give users a “show password” option when passwords are required and providing either alphabetical or numerical keyboards as necessary, rather than both.
Ensure Text Content Is Readable
Most mobile devices have significantly smaller screens than their desktop counterparts. This means that mobile UX designers are tasked with designing for less space. However, thinking small may not be the solution. Instead of focusing on providing as much information as possible within limited space, designers should prioritize the most important information.
UX Planet provides the following rules of thumb for mobile: “Text should be at least 11 points so it’s legible at a typical viewing distance without zooming. Improve legibility by increasing line height or letter spacing.” In addition, incorporating enough white space into your design can make the various elements easier to read.
Test Your Design
Testing is an important part of the web design process, and mobile experiences are no exception. UX professionals should constantly evaluate their interface for user-friendliness. “Treat your app as a continuously evolving entity, using data from analytics and user feedback to constantly improve the experience,” UX Planet suggests.
Similar to designing for hand position, you should test with real people on several different mobile devices. This ensures that you create a design that can carry out realistic tasks for real users. With the wide variety of tools available, it is easy to test an existing interface, a prototype, and even the live site.
The Future of Mobile UX Design
In the world of mobile, things move fast. To stay competitive, designers and developers should keep a close eye on industry trends. One of the most prominent developments in mobile UX is personalization. It focuses on creating experiences that adapt to the user. “By tapping into information already provided by the user … apps can determine if they should increase the font size, decrease screen brightness, eliminate flashing images or sound,” according to Usability Geek, a leading usability and user experience blog.
Context-aware design is another key element of personalization. It focuses on delivering the right information to the user at the right time, blending data and design to create an optimal user experience. “Beyond the interface, context-aware computing calls for a deep examination of user behavior and complex interaction patterns,” UX Magazine explains. “Data sources give us the material, while good design helps us make meaning and see the connections between components.” Using information such as location and time of day, context-aware computing aims to give users the information they need in real-time.
Another emerging UX trend is interconnectivity. Users are looking for technology that is not only personalized to their unique needs, but that can also translate seamlessly between multiple devices. As the Internet of Things becomes more refined, “Sophisticated technology is now small, affordable, energy efficient, smart, and easy to build … adding a new dimension of contextual and personalized information to everything from car settings to gaming to shopping experiences,” UX Magazine says.
UX Design Education
Lesley University’s online BS in Design for User Experience program prepares students to master the essentials of creating meaningful, people-first design. The curriculum focuses on graphic design principles and collaborative approaches, teaching students to design intuitive experiences across an ecosystem of products, services, and systems. You’ll learn to utilize and implement all aspects of the design process and get the skills you need for in-demand design careers.
Full Disclosure: This content is sponsored by Lesley University Online.