As I said in Part 1, a lot of the talks at MWUX 2013 were too abstract for my current knowledge level in UX. However, three stuck out for me as having a lot of practical value that I could make use of. This is the third of those (in chronological order, not order of usefulness):
The Four Mobile Traps: How to Avoid the Most Common Mistakes Plaguing the Mobile Space
This talk would have been worthwhile even if I only got one thing out of it: Michael’s company, usertesting.com, offers an awesome service that I suspect we’ll be using in the future. They put your app/site in the hands of a user, and give you back a video of the user using your app and commenting on their experience. I can think of a couple projects where I really wish we’d had this service. Sounds a lot easier than trying to find those “average” users yourself to do usability testing.
But that’s really tangential to the main point of the talk. Michael reviewed thousands of user testing sessions to distill what he sees as the four most common traps that mobile apps run into.
His overarching theme:
New computing paradigms typically cripple the former industry leaders.
Mobile is a new computing paradigm, and if we continue thinking about it the exact same way we think about the web, we’ll get left behind. Why?
- Users reconsider their commitments
- The rules of good product design change
- The incumbents typically underestimate the challenge until it’s too late
So, what are the four traps?
- “Porting” your existing app/site to mobile
- Users are more afraid of hackers, of accidentally opting in, and of automatic social posts
- Elements are unreadable or too small to manipulate with a finger
- Users don’t know what they should do
- Lack of help
Mobile = Short Attention Span Theater
How do we escape these traps? These were Michael’s 10 key takeaways:
- RETHINK for mobile. Start from the ground up.
- Design for the mainstream 80% of your users, not the 20% of power users.
- When in doubt, use text (not icons).
- Avoid multi-level menus.
- First make it WORK, then make it pretty (“functionality is the highest form of beauty”).
- Respond quickly (the app, that is).
- Give superb help.
- Show them they’re safe.
- Provide absolute clarity about any social feature.
- Test early, test often.
There were a couple things that stood out to me as contradicting some conventional wisdom. One was his emphasis on help. During the development of one of our mobile apps, we were told “if you need a tutorial, you’ve failed” and I’ve heard this “mobile shouldn’t need help” attitude mirrored elsewhere. While it’s true that mobile users have less tolerance for clunky help, I’ve come to believe that good in-app help and hints make for a good user experience. The help just needs to be designed with the mobile user in mind.
The second was his rejection of the “ship early, ship often” mentality of the web, and emphasis on more thorough testing. With mobile apps, I agree that you certainly need to be much more careful about what you submit. This is particularly true with Apple, where the time between submission and approval can be several days. That’s several days of bad reviews piling up in the App Store killing your chances before you get an update out. In our own mobile efforts, I’ve certainly started doubting iOS as a good platform for Lean Startup principles such as the MVP.
What do you think? How different is mobile from the web? Does it require different instincts? Let me know your thoughts!
Also check out Part 1 (MJ Broadbent) and Part 2 (Jason Alderman) of this blog series on MWUX.