The rise of smartphones and tablets has changed the world in a way similar to the PC back in the 1980s.
In 2011 there were 4 billion mobile phone users. About 1.08 billion were using smartphones. By 2014, the number of Internet users on mobile devices is likely to equal the number on desktop computers, and by 2015, mobile will be the platform of choice.
In 2010, during the D8 Conference, Walt Mossberg from All Things Digital, conducted an interview with Steve Jobs. Jobs compared the PC (and Macs) to a truck, explaining that back when most car users lived in the countryside, a truck was the perfect solution—big, strong, and with lots of space to carry all the things produced on the farm. But when people started to move to the big cities, the trucks became too big and stopped serving the needs of new users. Those in the countryside continued to need the trucks. Those in the city needed something more practical.
In other words, someone who only uses a PC for email and web browsing does not need 8GB of RAM and dual-core processors. Something smaller and simpler is a better solution. Yet the person working on HD video still needs more than iMovie for the iPad to get the job done. They might need “the truck”…and a big one at that.
With mobile devices, we see, and will continue to see, a rise in processing capability, much as we did with PCs, but the needs are different and the road will not be the same. In fact, there are those who argue that it is more important to have a fast connection to 3G or Wi-Fi than to a high-speed processor. The demand is for better screens and better usability. So where do we, the UX consultants, fit in?
Everywhere! With more and more mobile applications and smartphones around, the possibilities are increasing every day. User research, mobile testing, and interface design (for both devices and applications) are just some ideas that come to mind.
Every day more and more information becomes available for UX professionals. It’s good to keep an open mind when reading what’s been posted on the web. Some articles might not fit your immediate needs, but you never know when they’ll come in handy for different situations.
10 Tips for Mobile Usability Testing
After a look around the Web for articles on usability testing for mobile devices, I stumbled upon a number of interesting pieces. The following is from Optimal Usability, on what they’ve learned from their experience testing mobile UX:
- Start with low fidelity designs.
- Test in crowded places.
- Use chocolate as a lure.
- First sentence has to win people.
- Ask a couple of screener questions.
- Keep sessions short.
- When people say they’d do something, get them to show you how.
- Have two people run the testing.
- Don’t assume that people know the jargon, like App Store or iCloud.
- Test with an interactive prototype once you’ve ironed out the early interface bugs.
Optimal Usability does not talk about anything fancy, or something only they can do. There is no need for fancy equipment or a lab. It’s all about the users: how to get to them, and what to get from them.
Constraints in the Interaction Model
In User Interface Engineering, Jared M. Spool wrote at length about the challenges and opportunities in mobile UX design. Two highlights from the article include:
- What is true for desktop will not apply to mobile.
- There is no place for sloppiness: cut down functionality to improve the experience.
There is a tendency to think that mobile users are always on the go and use their computers only in their spare time. This might be true, but many mobile users could also find themselves surfing the Web. This might be even more true for tablets. Still, designing for mobile requires cutting down functionality for increased focus on the tasks.
Spool also has some interesting ideas on additional topics:
- The way the dialog is conducted has shifted. It is a two-way communication with the app asking questions and the user providing answers.
- Small screens and touch keyboards are radically different.
- A new language of gestures came along with touch screens.
- New devices come with new functions.
The guys and gals at UserCentric just published a white paper on the “Top 5 Questions on Mobile Usability Testing.” They are:
- Do I have to build a fully functional prototype before I test with users?
- Should we test with the user’s device or provide a device for testing?
- What devices/user groups should we include in testing?
- Do you see differences between iPhone and Android users? Do I need to include both in my study?
- When is lab testing versus remote testing appropriate?
When it comes to designing the user experience, Smashing Magazine has published a great set of guidelines. This is a more technical article and requires a careful read. Here are the points to consider:
- Define UI brand signatures.
- Focus on the portfolio of products.
- Identify the core user stories.
- Optimize UI flows and elements.
- Speed up perceived performance.
- Optimize individual UI elements.
- Define UI scaling rules.
- Use a performance dashboard.
- Champion dedicated UI engineering skills.
- Smart loading
- Background loading
Designing on the Go
UI Sketcher is a great application that allows users to create mobile sketches. It is easy to use and very responsive, creating designs that export to PDFs or PNGs. It’s affordable and connects to Dropbox.
Staying up-to-date is difficult in these changing times, but it is also what makes working with mobile UX so exciting. There is room for trial and error, and all that has been done will be put to the test in the next couple of years, as much of the world shares the web experience on mobile devices.
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