Mobile User Experience (UX) Design

Your constantly-updated definition of Mobile User Experience (UX) Design and collection of videos and articles
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What is Mobile User Experience (UX) Design?

Mobile UX designs are interfaces for hand-held and wearable devices. Designers focus on accessibility and efficiency to optimize these on-the-go interactions.

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Mobile design has different limitations and requirements than computer interfaces. Many companies have mobile and computer-based designs for identical products. Designers learn to distill essential elements for smaller screen sizes and to optimize their designs for users on the move.

Cater for Users on the Go

The importance of mobile user experience design grew dramatically in 2014 when mobile users suddenly became the online majority. Designers quickly learned they couldn’t simply miniaturize a desktop interface. They needed to reevaluate the needs and limitations of the growing audience of mobile users.

Since then, mobile design has evolved to find the best use of smaller screens.

Experiences are now tailored specifically for mobile environments.

Attention spans are shorter in mobile UX. Users want results fast, with minimal effort and zero friction. They’re often distracted. Signal and power loss are frequent worries. These users often walk and use devices at the same time.

Typically, mobile users find themselves in three scenarios:

  1. Micro tasking: they use devices in short, intense spurt—e.g., to buy tickets.

  2. Local: they use devices to see what’s happening around them.

  3. Bored: e.g., they surf news feed links while waiting.

Tips for Mobile UX

Here are some practical guidelines when designing for mobile interfaces:

1. Minimize Content

Smaller screens mean essential elements need to be legible on a smaller resolution. You must make a clean, legible layout to cater to mobile users.

  • Design for minimal page-loading times. Less than 3 seconds is ideal. 

  • Strive for a simple and straightforward UI (User Interface) design.

  • Make an effort to reduce cognitive load for your users. 

  • 94% of mobile users use portrait mode. Every pixel of width is valuable.

  • Keep images small and to a minimum.

  • Keep a clear visual hierarchy.

  • Use color and contrast to maximize visibility.

  • Make text 11 points or larger.

  • Reduce clutter. Compress information into icons where appropriate.

  • Complement or frame content with whitespace.

  • Include card-style design patterns to show actionable content easily.

  • Ensure all devices can support content.

  • Keep page descriptions short for bookmarks.

  • Most users prefer to use their phone in portrait mode, so make sure you design for limited width.

2. Simplify Navigation

Users might not complete a task all at once.  Make sure they don't get lost easily. Also, most users use one hand, and some fingertips are larger than others.

  • Aim for easy-to-use and self-evident navigation. Consider using progressive disclosure.

  • Create 30x30-pixel/7–10-mm (minimum) buttons and tabs.

  • Use full-screen navigation menus with the minimum amount of menu levels. 

  • Use clear menu labeling, including tabs/icons and graphics.

  • Prioritize the most-used items at the top of the screen. Consider how far users can comfortably reach.

  • Give short-key access to features.

  • Don’t mix navigation patterns.

  • Clearly show links. Indicate when the user has activated them.

  • Allow one primary action per screen.

Hand-reach comfort zones

Hand-reach comfort zones

Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-SA 4.0

3. Restrict User Inputs

Users become frustrated when they have to continuously tap buttons. So, design to offer maximum effect for minimum interaction/effort.

  • Keep URLs short.

  • Pre-fill or minimize required data inputs on forms.

  • Include alternative input mechanisms (e.g., voice-controlled).

  • Allow permanent sign-in.

  • Allow minimal, one-directional scrolling.

  • Retain data in case connections fail.

  • Offer obvious search features (e.g., a magnifying glass).

  • Use skeleton screens to ensure the system is executing background actions.

4. Ensure Continuity and Consistency

Let users continue where they left off so they can switch easily between mobiles and desktops.

  • Keep content consistent between screens. If you design separate versions, don’t compromise user trust with unsubtle changes.

  • Maintain continuity; let users track orders, etc., just as easily on mobiles.

  • If you design separate versions, let users switch from mobile to desktop formats freely.

  • Use recognizable UI design patterns.

Learn More about Mobile UX Design

Take our course: Mobile UX Design: The Beginner's Guide.

For more practical tips on Mobile UX, read a comprehensive guide to mobile app design.

See examples of excellent navigation menu designs and when to use them.

Questions related to Mobile User Experience (UX) Design

What makes a good mobile user experience?

A top-notch mobile user experience follows a structured five-step process, as explained by Frank Spillers, CEO of Experience Dynamics. Firstly, assess your internal priorities and business goals.

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Dive deep into understanding users by recognizing their needs, contexts, and objectives in step two. The third step is defining the app's value proposition, emphasizing emotional value. With insights from user needs and the specified value, step four involves crafting a distinct UX strategy. Lastly, you sketch, review, and refine the design. Ultimately, understanding and integrating the user's context with the design results in an app that resonates, delights, and ensures strong user adoption.

What is UX in mobile?

Mobile UX (User Experience) pertains to a user's overall experience while interacting with a mobile device, predominantly smartphones and tablets. It encompasses the design, usability, and functionality tailored for smaller screens and different user behaviors compared to desktops. Effective mobile UX ensures seamless navigation, intuitive design, and rapid load times, catering to on-the-go usage. As highlighted in our Mobile UX Design guidelines, it's crucial to consider factors like touch screen interaction, limited screen real estate, and varied device capabilities to create a satisfactory user experience.

What is the most important way to optimize a mobile user experience?

The cornerstone of enhancing mobile UX is task analysis. As Frank Spillers, CEO of Experience Dynamics, explains, task analysis involves observing users performing their tasks without emphasizing the technology they use. 

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By having users show their current routines, you can identify workarounds, patterns, and individual adjustments. The goal is to comprehend their problem-solving process step by step. This method reveals invaluable insights, especially with ethnography, which delves into cultural cues and user behavior. Using the observations from task analysis, designers can map and flow chart user activities, ensuring the design supports these sequences seamlessly. The ultimate aim is to create an intuitive user journey that feels natural and logical. 

What is an example of good user experience?

A prime example of good user experience can be observed in the Apple Watch, which functions not just as a standalone device but as part of a broader product-service system. This biofeedback device, when paired with services like Fitness Plus, seamlessly integrates with the user's lifestyle. Its cohesive design complements the mobile app and other devices, creating a harmonious ecosystem. Frank Spillers, CEO of Experience Dynamics, emphasized the importance of examining the entire ecosystem, from service to mobile app, to truly grasp how products like the Apple Watch provide an unparalleled user experience.

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What are the 7 aspects of user experience?

User experience (UX) encompasses more than just usability. 

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As described by UX pioneer Peter Morville, the seven critical aspects of UX are:

  1. Useful: Products must serve a purpose, fulfilling specific needs or desires.

  2. Usable: It's essential for users to achieve their goals effectively and efficiently.

  3. Findable: Products should support easy navigation, ensuring users can find desired objects or content.

  4. Credible: Trustworthiness is crucial; users should believe in the product's legitimacy.

  5. Desirable: Driven by emotions, this aspect pertains to design, imagery, and brand identity.

  6. Accessible: Products should cater to users of all abilities, including those with disabilities.

  7. Valuable: Ensuring both business and user derive value is vital for sustained success.

How To Build a Mobile App?

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To construct a mobile app tailored for patient-doctor chats:

  1. Employ a mobile-first, task-first, and content-first strategy.

  2. Begin with a sketch emphasizing large buttons suitable for mobile interfaces.

  3. Prioritize content, focusing on security, and protective measures for health information (HIPPA).

  4. Allow users to see incoming messages from their doctor, specifying the date and time of the message. The app should support a chat format but with provisions for longer, descriptive messages.

  5. Enable a full-screen mode for typing, and add features like attachments for photos or health records and emotion icons to indicate the patient's feelings.

  6. Consider features like video calls, but ensure privacy with a video request system.

  7. Enable searching and editing of messages while emphasizing security for sensitive content.

What is Tappability in mobile UX?

Tappability in mobile UX refers to the efficiency and clarity of tap-based interactions on mobile devices. It minimizes unnecessary taps, ensuring users know what's tappable without confusion. 

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Tappability is closely related to affordances, UI elements that invite the expected interaction. Think of a button that looks pressable or a slider that looks slideable. Enhancing tappability means offering clear visual cues (or signifiers), such as a pulsating button, to indicate interactive elements. Clean design is vital, but it shouldn't maintain clarity. Proper tappability reduces user frustration, uncertainty, and errors, ensuring a smoother mobile experience. Dive deeper into mobile UX best practices in our course Mobile UX Design: The Beginner's Guide.

What’s the difference between a Smartphone and a Tablet?

Smartphones and tablets differ mainly in size, purpose, and user behavior. A smaller resolution characterizes a smartphone and is not always the primary access device. Users of smartphones often multitask, face more distractions, and interact in a profound social and emotional context, which includes environmental factors like low lighting. They require clear tapability on objects. On the other hand, a tablet offers a larger screen area and is easier to design for due to its size. It's often a multi-user device used more by consumers at home, with less business usage than smartphones. When designing for tablets, one should maximize the available real estate while ensuring objects remain easily tappable. 

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Where to learn more about mobile UX?

Dive deep into mobile UX on the Interaction Design Foundation. Start with Mobile UX Design: The Beginner’s Guide for foundational knowledge. To refine interface skills, explore the Mobile UI Design Course. Enroll in the Mobile UX Strategy Course: Building Successful Products for a strategic perspective on creating successful mobile products. Each course offers expert-led content, ensuring a comprehensive mobile user experience design grasp. Enhance your skills and stay updated with the latest in mobile UX.

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Literature on Mobile User Experience (UX) Design

Here’s the entire UX literature on Mobile User Experience (UX) Design by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:

Learn more about Mobile User Experience (UX) Design

Take a deep dive into Mobile User Experience (UX) Design with our course Mobile UX Design: The Beginner's Guide .

In the “Build Your Portfolio” project, you’ll find a series of practical exercises that will give you first-hand experience with the methods we cover. You will build on your project in each lesson so once you have completed the course you will have a thorough case study for your portfolio.

Mobile User Experience Design: Introduction, has been built on evidence-based research and practice. It is taught by the CEO of ExperienceDynamics.com, Frank Spillers, author, speaker and internationally respected Senior Usability practitioner.

All open-source articles on Mobile User Experience (UX) Design

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