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Usability Week Recap: Day 1 – Mobile User Experience

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Usability Week Recap: Day 1 – Mobile User Experience

Last week, eVOC attended Usability Week 2011, a conference organized by the UX consulting and research firm Nielsen Norman Group (NNG). On Friday, I attended a full-day tutorial taught by NNG’s User Experience Specialist Raluca Budiu, entitled ‘Mobile User Experience 1: Usability of Websites and Apps on Mobile Devices’ (view the full itinerary here).

The purpose of the seminar was to share tips on developing a mobile strategy, outline the differences between building mobile websites vs. applications, and reveal best practices across these different media. NNG pulled data from their own international diary study, user testing, and design reviews, as well as from various research articles.

My colleague Sabrina and I tag-teamed the event. And by tag-teamed, I mean I got to go on Friday, and she got to go on Saturday. Though she’ll be taking a day off any time she likes, so she may be having the last laugh. In any case, stay tuned for her upcoming blog post about her day at the event.

Overall, I found the day I attended to be relevant and engaging. Raluca provided a lot of interesting insights about the mobile user experience. Below are some of my observations:

It is truly amazing how so many of the common conventions we follow for websites on a computer apply equally to mobile devices. Things like messaging, layout, navigation, error messaging, and spacing are all crucial in developing a usable interface for users to get things done – regardless of medium. I’d say 80% of the best practices discussed would apply to every type of device on the market.

Mobile is still such a new medium that many businesses do not have the experience or knowledge to develop a cohesive mobile strategy. At Usability Week, the majority of attendees were designers or programmers at companies just starting to roll out a mobile platform. Fortunately, they can model themselves after other businesses across industries that are well established in mobile, such as Amazon, Google, and Walmart. But despite the efforts of these trendsetters, there is still opportunity for great innovation as technology improves and social media grows.

Something I knew but had never verbalized: There are two reasons people access data on their mobile devices. One is to pass the time by browsing. The other is to search for a specific piece of simple information (people generally look for more complex information on their desktop/laptop computers). It helps to know this so that a site can be tailored to these two reasons.

Something I know and have verbalized: Repeat visitors are more likely to use mobile apps, while casual/occasional visitors are more likely to use mobile websites. It’s therefore no surprise that apps have higher success rates than mobile sites. The reasons for this are twofold: 1) repeat visitors are more likely to use apps and have an easier time completing tasks due to their familiarity with the site. 2) Mobile sites tend to have more capabilities than mobile apps, making them harder to navigate and complete tasks.

Something I didn’t know: Apps put less strain on infrastructure because there are fewer server calls to load content.

Something that really surprised me: Some companies don’t automatically recognize when a mobile user lands on their website. These visitors are forced to browse the full site on their mobile device and consistently have trouble.

One of NNG’s findings is that companies should avoid designing for the lowest common denominator. Their belief is that by trying to satisfy everyone, you most likely satisfy no one. This often goes counter to what companies want to do on their websites. Even if just 2% of visitors are using a certain media to access your site, it’s natural to want to account for them. However, if designing a good experience for that 2% means deteriorating the experience of the 10% who use a different, more ubiquitous media, it is often a better business decision to favor the 10%. And as with all business decisions, key factors must be considered, such as audience, content, budget, priorities, and needs.

Finally, NNG did not spend a lot of time discussing how to conduct mobile testing. But a theme I noticed throughout the day was just how much of their insights and knowledge came from conducting in-person mobile usability testing.

Above all, it’s crucial to know your audience and what they want to do on your app or site. We conduct our own mobile testing that helps companies understand their customers, improve their usability, and increase ROI. Click here to learn more.