Mobile UX essentials: designing for humans

By | November 24, 2010

What I’m about to share with you is my own personal theory, but you will find that it has been proven several times, namely by sources mentioned in this humble blog.

There are two types of apps that are downloaded on the App Store. The “WOW” app and the “NOW” app. Allow me to explain:

Google breaks down mobile internet users in three categories:

1. The “Repetitive Now” user: this user checks his phone several times a day for the same information over and over; namely, stock quotes or hockey scores, for us Canadians.

2. The “Bored Now” user: this user is most likely waiting in line at the pharmacy or at the bus stop, and is looking for an entertaining way to occupy his mind for a minute or two. He is “Bored Now”, therefore he wants to be Entertained NOW.

3. The “Urgent Now” user is most likely someone who’s looking for directions. The mindset of this user is generally something along the lines of: “where am I, where am I going, and where do I find a ____”

The key takeaway here is that nobody browses their phones aimlessly for extensive periods of time. All of these different kinds of users are looking to satisfy their need for something instantly, if not sooner.

So how does this apply to mobile experience design, you ask?

Mobile users download two types of apps:

1- Apps that will give them a chuckle, apps that will entertain them for a minute, apps that they most likely will use for a minute and a half and then never return to.

These apps are:

Bad mobile apps

And while you may laugh now, these apps do get a fair share of downloads. There is a whole business model based on these worthless single-use disposable apps.

These are the WOW apps. Obviously, there are also some very valuable WOW apps which offer a lot of depth (for example Angry Birds or Flight Control)  but what’s important to realize is that these apps serve a unique purpose: entertaining for a minute while a user is bored. WOW apps are catchy, they do their job of entertaining, and they get tossed when you get bored with them.

2- The NOW apps are the opposite. They are apps that users refer to. The main idea here is that they are USEFUL apps. Not useful in the sense of “it’s always useful for me to have my faithful pick-up line generator handy”, but TRULY useful apps.

Google Maps is a perfect example. It probably is the most commonly used app on iPhone apart for the browser; everybody uses it all the time. (In fact, accessing maps and directions is the no. 1 mobile activity according to a recent survey by Adobe.)

Apps like ATM locators, apps like RestoMontreal to find a restaurant nearby, transit schedules, movie schedules, these kinds of apps that are truly useful will find their way on a user’s device and most importantly, they will stay there.

In some cases, users will download and keep apps of their favourite stores or brands; but if this is your case then you will want to offer some value to these users, because if your app doesn’t offer some incentive; it will most likely be deleted or quickly forgotten.

How you can ensure that your app falls into that category is by making it ridiculously easy for your users to find what they are looking for. Efficiency is the key. The way users consume both mobile internet and mobile apps conveys a very clear message: time is of the essence.

Cluttered interfaces and complex operations are big no-no’s. Think to yourself “could my 4 years old easily find what I’m looking for in less than 20 seconds?”: that’s how your app will be valuable.

Think about re-organizing the user interface based on a user’s geographic location; show him the most relevant/closest results first. Invest in an intelligent search engine that will provide real-time, relevant contextual recommendations based on a user’s searches. Again: make it ridiculously easy to find what you’re looking for.

Lastly, don’t assume that just because users have downloaded your application they will use it. Remind them periodically that your app exists; that’s what push notifications are for.