Mobile UX Primer: Considerations

Key Mobile Design Considerations

When designing for the mobile UX, there are some key considerations to bear in mind, versus designing for stationary situations like a desktop.

1. Device
Know the medium you’re designing for, the various phone/tablet/device characteristics in detail. Make the most of the platform. Mobile devices have on-board GPS, compass, camera, accelerometer, microphone and other functions. Whatever the handset does normally, do that. Inconsistency leads to errors and frustration.

  • Optimize for the uniquely mobile experience of your device, don’t just shoehorn existing desktop/web app into a mobile device.
  • Be aware of the following typical mobile device traits:
  • Richer, stronger pixel density (i.e., iOS “Retina display” for iPhone 4) that allows for finer details of text and imagery (and animations, transitions, motions overall)
  • Multiple sensors: gyroscope, proximity sensor (to your face/ear), accelerometer, camera(s), speaker(s), and microphone(s) and GPS too…
  • Also most devices have some combination of Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and cellular data, as well as ports for USB and/or HDMI, etc. (various data connections)
  • Such devices are part of some ecosystem (i.e., iTunes, Android Market) for app discovery, delivery, usage. There may be other appliances or peripherals as well, like dock adapters or USB add-ons. How might your app take advantage of that, if at all?

This site lists primary mobile devices with suggestions on device testing within a reasonable budget. Knowing your device is vital!

2. Person
Be mindful of multitasking user in chaotic environment, trying to maintain continuously partial attention (CPA). The mobile impulse usually boils down to one of three mindsets:

a) I’m micro-tasking. Optimize for quick bursts of activity. Identify the recurring tasks and then polish, polish, polish.

b) I’m local. Take advantage of location, audio and video sensors to establish context.

c) I’m bored. Distract me by taking me on a journey of discovery.

Mobile users are often multi-tasking, using a phone one-handed, or in a hurry. Minimize errors and make users more efficient, by storing preferences and recent queries, and suggesting matches. Reduce cognitive load and opportunity cost (Surface key actions and data with minimal user effort)

3. Context
Sympathize with the context the device UI is being used for. Consider the human relationships among information, things, places, activities. Think about semantic, social, spatial, temporal relationships.

Note that the contexts of use are constantly in motion, from loud chaotic spaces (a coffee shop) to quiet discreet moments (a movie theater). Be sensitive to the fact that the contexts may be changing, unlike being chained to a desk for hours and hours mostly creating/consuming large portions of content. Think small, snackable chunks of pivotable information and screens that can interrupted anytime, painlessly with zero failure.

** PC’s are found in a fixed, predictable environment, large screen enables multi-tasking, keyboard/mouse for input

** Mobile devices are in highly dynamic environments, with small screen/limited text input, the UI consumes whole screen, hard to multitask effectively

4. Activity
Participate in the culture you’re designing for; cultivate “mobile mindfulness” for the user/device/tasks.

The primary activity is likely focused on something easily achievable in a small-screen device form and given the constantly changing context/environmnent. Not long, drawn-out multi-step sequences but tightly chunked, pivotable tasks and screens. Focus on user needs, not just cool tech solutions or tactics. Platform technical abilities like GPS or accelerometer should be a guide, not the focus.

Be careful about “looking backwards while moving into the future”–the “rear-view mirror” effect (via Marshall Mcluhan) of cognitive habits and social conventions getting in the way. Invent new possibilities but be aware of historical conventions that linger.