Merge Mobile into Your Business

The Mobile User Experience

By Laura Hampton August 14, 2011 Filed Under: Mobile Web Deisgn
It’s a commonly held belief that designing for the mobile web is all about creating something for “users on-the-go”, the user who checks his/her phone while waiting at the bus stop or the user who nonchalantly browses while commuting into work. But the truth is that we have evolved past that; no longer is mobile a novelty and no longer will the user accept anything short of an excellent experience.

Understanding the Mobile User

The rise in mobile use, including mobile devices like the iPad and other tablets, as well as smartphones, has led to a far more mobile savvy user. While once upon a time they were looking for quick wins and easy finds, mobile users are now using their mobile as they would a desktop device; they surf, they browse, they check in with contacts – and they do it both “on-the-go” and not! Think of the way you use your own mobile. There have more than likely been times when you have used your device to perform a task or fulfil a need that goes beyond wasting time at that bus stop. Perhaps you used your mobile because it’s quicker than loading up a laptop, perhaps you simply prefer to use your mobile… The point here is that we all need to better understand the mobile user before we can even contemplate creating a mobile presence to satisfy their needs. It is through this understanding that we can then go on to structure our content and create something genuinely useful and engaging

The Zabisco Website is a good example of how a mobile website compares to its desktop equivalent. Source: www.zabisco.com

Understanding the Mobile Device

The device the user has is going to have a big impact on the experience they have on your mobile website. The functionality, the screen size, the memory… they’re all contributing factors which we need to be aware of. The most prominent conundrum here is that of touch-screen or keyboard. If your user has a touch screen, obviously a touch screen functionality within your website will benefit them, yet a Blackberry or other keypad based mobile user will struggle with touch but benefit from a hover state on mouse-over. Speed is also a contributing factor in the mobile user experience. From an SEO (search engine optimization) and a UX (user experience) perspective, a fast-loading page is far better than a slow one. This becomes even more important on mobile devices, where users are typically even less patient than they are on desktop computers. Many will conclude that a slow-performing site simply isn’t working, or that they don’t have the right level of connectivity. Pages that are too content-rich will download slower and use more memory, so ask yourself: “Is this really going to enhance the user’s experience?”

Thinking about Page Length

While desktop websites are still trending toward multipage site structures, mobile is far more ready to embrace fewer, longer pages. The act of scrolling on a mobile is, for a lot of users, more intuitive and easier to do than on a desktop computer. But this doesn’t mean every piece of content should be condensed onto one static page. This could be overwhelming for users and actually be detrimental to their experiences. Instead, consider how best to structure content to present it in a manageable, engaging way, utilizing functionality such as drop-downs or accordion panels to make content easily available but not necessarily immediately in view.

Stripping Back Is Not the Answer

A common misconception in mobile user experience is that a mobile website needs to be a ”stripped back” version of the desktop site. Some mobile developers will take your content right back to its bare bones, removing “nonessential” images, videos, text blocks, graphics, and so on, to leave just the “essential” stuff. An example of this is the refactoring of WordPress sites for mobile.  The standard WordPress mobile plug in removes all multimedia content and instead provides a long list of articles for the user to click on. While this is clearly a very usable version of the site, is it providing the user experience the user deserves? Much of the content we provide to users, though not essential to their journey, adds to the experience because it gives content and visual diversity. That means videos, images, and other media should be included; it’s just that use of screen real estate and page layouts require additional, careful thought and design. To find out more about designing for the mobile web, take a look at our article How to Design for the Mobile Web. Guest article written by Laura Hampton of user experience agency Zabisco. Take a look at the Zabisco blog. (phone photo source: here by Andy Rennie)

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