Creating Highly Usable Mobile Experiences: Lessons from Real Life Use

July 08, 2011

Last evening, I had the pleasure of organizing the first mobile and location-based marketing event for an organization of which I am on the board, the AMA Boston. I designed an immersive learning experience for participants, trying out location-based services in a marketing tour of Harvard Square, but I feel that at the end of the evening, I was the learner. We had an enlightening talk by authors Aaron Strout and Mike Schneider on best practices for mobile marketing, enlightening for marketers, even in the B2B space, where technologies such as the popular check-in service Foursquare are seriously underutilized. (Watch this space for a Foursquare promotion next time you see the OHO team out and about). 

The immersive experience before the talk, though, brought up some vital points about mobile user experience. Mobile is still in its infancy, although the much-touted “year of mobile” is apparently finally upon us. But the user experience of customers using mobile applications varies widely, a sign of a medium that is still just finding its legs. Dealing with this varied experience requires some serious thought from UX designers:

  • Actions need to be super-quick and simple for users on the go. People using mobile devices are standing on a sidewalk, looking something up while in a meeting, or waiting for their lunch. Easy to use interfaces, simplified actions (without stripped-down functionality), and speedy app performance are essential to help users accomplish tasks.
  • The learning curve for B2C mobile apps is essentially zero. If users cannot learn how to use an app within the first minutes of accessing it, they will uninstall it. B2B apps seem to have a little more leeway, but the necessity of extremely intuitive use is high for all types of apps.
  • People with different smartphones are still having very different experiences not only with native apps, but also with HTML5-based mobile web applications. Companies can boost the likelihood of word-of-mouth buzz by showing, on their web site and in app store descriptions, that they have thought through and tested performance across all platforms and devices. This gives consumers the confidence to recommend apps to colleagues using different devices.
  • Peer-to-peer support is more important than ever with mobile. People are unlikely to have access to, let alone consult, documentation for a mobile experience. Word of a poor user interface will spread quickly among users, since people are more likely to ask a friend for help than to call company support. All the more reason to give the mobile experience the attention it deserves.

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