Thinking About the User Part I: Design Considerations for Mobile Apps
Sep 11, 2018
Think back to the last time you used a mobile app(lication) with unwieldy menu placement, indecipherable icons, and inconvenient user-configurable options. These may seem like minor nuisances in the everyday life of app interaction, and frankly, most users probably never notice (or maybe don’t realize that they notice) or hardly care. But user experience in application design is critical to ease of use, efficient navigation, and longevity of mobile-based application technologies.
I think fast, I click fast, and I want my app to move fast, too. I want to go where I want as fast as possible, and I don’t want to have to work too hard to find what I’m looking for. Too often I find that icons don’t make sense or are placed in a location on the screen that is not necessarily intuitive.
UXdesign.cc has wonderful articles about user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) design that are worth reading if you are curious about UI design (here’s one of my favorite case studies). Aside from personal experience and intuition of the designer, it is important to incorporate research into the design process, particularly into the psychology of human interactions with technology.
Humans vary greatly—even though our DNA doesn’t. What I expect from an app can, and likely will, be worlds apart from what the next user wants from an app, and different from the next user, and the next, and so on. However, there are also ways, by virtue of human physiology, that users are very much alike. By utilizing behavioral research, designers can hone in on aspects of the human-technology interaction that neither designers nor users would ever have expected to affect their decisions. This facilitates designing to target specific aspects of the user’s attention, tailored to what the app has to offer.
This isn’t the platform to dive deep into each psychological or perceptual mechanism that well-thought-out UI can address, but check out the list of high-level considerations below, borrowed from a well-written article about psychology and UX:
10 Things to About Human Psychology That Should Inform UX Design:
- People don’t want to work or think more than they have to.
- People have limitations.
- People make mistakes.
- Human memory is complicated.
- People are social.
- People are easily distracted.
- People crave information.
- Most mental processing is unconscious.
- People create mental models.
- People understand visual systems.
Human-Centered Design for Apps is Still Lacking
The consideration of users in the design process has definitely increased in the design discipline, but personally, the more I use mobile apps, the less I want to use mobile technology at all. I am human; where is the human-centered design for apps?
This is largely reactionary and comes from my own previous experiences and reflections, but my impression is that app designers tend to build products that satisfy their own view of their product’s potential role in the market segment they are engaging in rather than the most useful product that address the real concerns of the potential users. For example, a programmer creating an agriculture app might design based on what they know, or think they know, about the sector and can easily miss out on (or extraneously add) key features or functionality that users truly need (or don’t need at all). Some of the best apps spend the extra time getting into the details: Airbnb’s app focuses on providing the most important information at first view. These companies are more often than not beyond startup stage. User research often takes a significant amount of money and time—assets startups don’t usually have.
The Insider Perspective
To be fair, I would venture to say that all app designers think about the usability of their apps, but few achieve ideal and smooth operation. Enter graphic designers and UI experts. I can build web applications all day long, but I (really we, as in our development team) always iteratively defer to users for feedback on design, because once you are on the inside of project, it can be difficult to isolate your intimate knowledge of a platform from the idea that a first-time user may have no idea what they are looking at—despite your best efforts. The need for this exercise in humility and human-centered design cannot be understated.
If we as designers and programmers can remove ourselves from the internal plumbing of applications and come face to face with the user experience, we just may be able to create more inclusive and useful applications. Thankfully, an ever-increasing number of designers are focused on this. Not all achieve perfect UI (is that possible?) but we are on the right track. Unfortunately, I come across apps with lacking UI more often than I should.
Part two of this post will have a few examples of my (very subjective) opinion on well-designed apps and those that I often—or always—get hung up using. Stay tuned.