With the ubiquity of inexpensive handheld mobile devices and the proliferation of network access, more and more individuals rely upon their smart phones not only for voice communications, but a as a primary means of obtaining digital information.
Designing for this convergent behavior requires a few more considerations than designing for a typical desktop browser-centric experience. Mobile users can in effect be anywhere, a car, a train, an elevator, a busy cafe, a rainy street, all the while trying to access information on a device with a relatively small screen and intermittent connectivity. These factors, in combination with the User and Business goals, need to be considered when determining a mobile site’s Information Architecture, Navigation, Content and Functionality.
In a typical Goal-based mobile site design, where the primary purpose is to provide users’ access to content or information, there are several devices that can be applied to aid in the connection betwixt users and information. Those devices are, reduce options, apply visual cues, make items scan-able and ensure content is easily accessible.
Reduce options at the onset and throughout the experience, distill the available options into relevant and meaningful selections. This will reduce the “paradox of choice” effect and provide an illuminated path to completion. For example, look for opportunities to combine multiple related categories into one primary category whose label is telegraphic. This exercise requires a deep understanding of the site’s content and user goals.
Apply visual cues The application of visual cues throughout the experience guides the user’s eye and reduces the cognitive processes necessary to make timely and accurate decisions. These cues, closely related to the concept of “information scent,” can be realized as graphic elements or the use of color to connect like content or functionality. Be consistent however, any misalignment of visual cues greatly reduces their overall effect.
Make items scan-able Mobile users, even more so than their desktop counterparts, tend to scan or visually forage for information as opposed to actively reading. To address this, make primary items scan-able, using simple, directive real words. Avoid jargon or colloquial language, unless it is appropriate for the given audience.
Easily accessible Once you’ve successfully guided the user to the content, ensure that it is readily accessible. Two fundamental considerations are connectivity and legibility. Optimize graphics so that users in low bandwidth situations are not dissuaded by increased load-time.
In respect to legibility, even though most smart phones allow for pinch/zoom functionality, ensure users can read the contents’ primary message without having to rely upon the zoom/ pinch functionality.
Another important consideration when designing a mobile experience is understanding the
users’ mental model. When using a mobile device, users have an expectation of how their
device should work, how their respective platform handles such things as touch input, gestures, orientation and so forth. To the greatest extent possible, leverage and build upon the platforms’ capability to produce a unified and aligned experience.
Users’ behavior and expectations regarding mobile devices and information access will steadily change, typically matching advances in technology. However, designing relevant and meaningful mobile experiences, those that not only inform users and satisfy their needs, but also lead to loyalty can be accomplished by knowing the user, understanding their needs, anticipating their circumstances, and utlilizing the appropriate devices.