As mobile use has expanded beyond desktop, so too has the expectation that mobile user experiences catch up and provide a more favorable format.
In the past, a default approach by designers may have been to scale down what they had created for a desktop website and simply make it mobile responsive. Now however, you are likely to be left behind by competitors if this is your approach.
The best mobile UX designs are actually made for mobile first, taking into account the priorities of the target app customer. The aim is to provide a better, more intuitive and user-friendly experience.
So what are some “best practices” for mobile UX?
Global mobile users have already surpassed desktop. Source: Smart Insights
Start With The Platform
Given that nearly 95% of market share goes to Android and Apple between them, we’ll start with the recommendations that those platforms put out.
Mobile platform market share. Source: netmarketshare
Apple keep their iOS Human Interface Guidelines updated according to the core principles they aim for in-app design. At the center of these are three primary themes which they feel separate them from other platforms: clarity, deference and depth. Apple emphasizes that “people, not apps are in control.” If designing for iOS, keep these guidelines at the center to better ensure acceptance into the app store.
Google’s Material Design guidelines are the starting point for Android apps. “Accessible design allows users of all abilities to navigate, understand, and use your UI successfully,” Google emphasizes accessible design as part of their UX preferences so that anyone, even those with low vision or motor impairments can use their apps. Material design prefers clean, clear design and layouts with color palettes that better aid accessibility.
App designers should always begin with the guidelines for the app platform while integrating known UX design best practices.
Keep the Customer at the Center
As mentioned, you’re not likely to get a good mobile UX result if you simply begin with the full website and try to shrink it down for the small screen. The best mobile apps begin with mobile in mind and knowledge of the ideal target customer at the center.
Ideally, the best mobile experiences start from scratch and aren’t overly beholden to the website features. Uniquely mobile ideas are often the best, as long as they meet those central needs of your target customer.
What will be the key goals of your customer? Achieving something as quickly as possible while they dash between tasks? Or are they browsers who are killing time somewhere? Identifying the typical modality of your customer will give you good clues as to what to highlight in your app.
The Pareto Principle
The Pareto or 80/20 principle is also at work when it comes to mobile UX. This means that 80% of your users probably only use 20% of your features.
If you run good mobile analytics you should be able to monitor which features are the most popular and therefore should be prioritized in your UX design. Similarly, if you’re creating an app for an existing website, you can use Google Analytics to narrow down to mobile users and monitor what they are using. Again, prioritize those features which are the most essential.
Keep Content Focused
This really follows on from doing your research to figure out what is most popular with your users. Best practice is to keep your content clear and focused on what is most important to your target user.
Bear in mind that most people use their mobile devices while on the go and may be rushed while they’re at it. This means that simple, clear navigation is important and clutter should always be avoided. Highlight your most important features up front and don’t force people to scroll or click around on small screens looking for what they need.
Another practice to be aware of is keeping your usability intuitive. What are the gestures people are typically used to using when operating an app? If yours requires anything less-typical, make sure you clearly explain how to use the feature with hovering messages. Users will leave in frustration if it is not immediately clear to them how to operate your app.
Design for Touch
If you’ve designed for desktop use, it’s not so easy to mess up the experience in terms of how easy it is to navigate around and actually use the app with mouse or keyboard. For mobile, users are operating by touch, which adds more variables. What if someone has “sausage fingers”, tiny hands or anything in-between?
You now need to account for all shapes and sizes as well as the gesture or pressure used to operate your app on different types of devices. Buttons, forms or any other app features need to be large enough to avoid overlap with other elements or misinterpretation of what the operator is trying to achieve with their touch. This is also something to be tested for during usability testing.
Design for Interruptions
If you’ve ever had the experience of putting down an app to take care of something more pressing that has your attention, only to come back and find you need to figure out how to start over, you will appreciate the importance of designing for interruptions.
Keep your app UX and interface simple and clean enough that it is easy for a user to pick up where they left off.
Leverage Features Specific to Mobile
What mobile-specific features can be incorporated into your app in a way that is useful? There are many features available to mobile which you can’t use on desktop. Here are some examples:
- Slide features (e.g. slide to unlock).
- Make a call from the app (particularly useful for local business apps).
- Gyro or GPS features.
- Social sharing.
- Link to the camera.
Plan the On-boarding Experience
Many apps end up flailing simply because it’s not clear to users how to make the best use of them. Part of your UX should always consider how you will onboard new users and take them through a journey of discovery with your app.
Delivering a quality on-boarding process creates a good foundation for attracting and retaining the right users for your app. What on-boarding features can you put in place to ensure that the experience is clear and intuitive for the customer?
One method for creating a great on-boarding experience is highlighted by Product Mavens — progressive on-boarding. This is an interactive method of on-boarding which provides new users with instructions sequentially as they use the app. This is especially good if your app has any complexities to it which may not be immediately obvious. Your goal should always be to inform the customer and help them to see the value of your app features as soon as possible. This way they are more likely to stick around.
The BBC app prompts users about functions they haven’t used yet after a period of time. Source: Product Mavens
UX Best Practices…
One of the key starting points if you’re designing a new app is to begin with your target customer in mind, as well as the best practices for the platform on which you are designing.
Good UX design means keeping your app clean and simple for the user, incorporating elements of accessibility and creating an intuitive on-boarding experience. While you might find a way to incorporate your most popular desktop features, UX should always begin with mobile rather than trying to work from a desktop version.
Highlight those features that are the most important for your target customer and help to create an environment where they wish to stay.
Koombea builds beautiful apps incorporating best-practice UX. Talk to us today about your development needs.