Three simple ingredients for outstanding mobile experience design

It is oh-so-easy to build and launch a mobile app but it is not nearly as easy to design a great mobile customer experience.

Can you think of a kick-ass mobile app or site, one you can’t live without? What about a really bad one? What is the difference between the two – the one that really hits the spot versus the one that completely misses the mark?

kris nygren mobile designWith mobile internet blowing desktop browsing out of the water globally and smartphone penetration in New Zealand at 44 percent and rising,  consumers’ expectations of mobile apps and websites are increasing by the minute.

It is oh-so-easy to build and launch a mobile app but it is not nearly as easy to design a great mobile customer experience. It costs just a much (or little) to design a dismal mobile user experience as an outstanding one!

One possible answer could be to buy the 293-page report237 Design Guidelines for Improving the User Experience of Mobile Sites and Apps from the Nielsen Norman Group (co-founded by user experience guru Jacob Nielsen). For $400 you can get a ‘paint-by-numbers’ manual for designing a usable mobile experience.

However in our experience at Optimal Usability, it’s both a little simpler and a lot more fundamental. Turns out there are three fundamental principles for designing outstanding mobile experiences:

* Empathy

* Context

* Consumption

Empathy is important, because the end user has to be at the centre of the design process. It requires deep empathy with your users (to put aside your own biases) and to understand how human behaviour will influence the design of the mobile app or site.

A great example is not-for-profit organisation Breastcancer.org which has developed an intimate understanding of the needs, wants and behaviours of women being diagnosed with, fighting and surviving breast cancer. Breastcancer.org decided to focus on key moments in the breast cancer-survivor’s journey when a smartphone is the ideal communications channel.

For example, they provide immediate answers via a responsive mobile website to burning questions women immediately after having their initial diagnosis, literally at the moment when they are leaving the doctor’s office. Later on in this journey, Breastcancer.org provides a mobile app called the Breast Cancer Diagnosis Guide, which helps women understand their pathology reports and plan the best way to fight back. This carefully considered approach is born from a deep understanding of their users’ needs.

Context is vital too, because this is where and when users will want to access a mobile application or site. Google and Ipsos research shows that 97 percent of Kiwi smartphone owners use their mobiles at home, 80 percent use their smartphone ‘on the go’ and 64 percent in shops. More importantly, 80 percent use their smartphone while doing something else, such as:

-        54 percent while watching television

-        31 percent while watching a movie

-        36 percent while surfing the web on a different device

-        22 percentwhile reading a newspaper

And I’m probably no different from most smartphone users. I have about a dozen apps, links and tools that I always want at my fingertips.  First and foremost, my phone is a work tool. But I’m not always at work and I use different tools and apps in different contexts and environments - often changing seamlessly throughout the day.

On the bus to and from work, I listen to TED talks and music (or respond to an email I never got to during the day). Throughout the day, I access my calendar, email, CRM and Chatter as I move between meetings. In the evening, I’ll catch up on news, personal email and social stuff, typically during TV ad breaks.

Finally, consumption is about understanding that how and what your customers consume on their smartphone is a fundamentally different compared with any other medium. Put simply, it’s more like having lots of little snacks on the run than having a proper meal.

This translates into smaller windows of opportunity to hold your customers’ attention and the need to serve them just the right content or functionality they want at any point in time - nothing more, nothing less! 

Let me summarise this in a single sentence (suitable for mobile consumption). The secret to designing outstanding customer experience is to help your mobile users achieve their goals with minimum effort, whenever they want to and wherever they are. Simple, right?

Kris Nygren is CEO of user experience design consultancy Optimal Usability