Designing For Usability

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Designing for Usability

Designing for Usability


A few mobile apps do get frequent use, ranging from Facebook to the Weather Channel. But most businesses can't realistically aspire to enter this category; mobile apps have different usability criteria than core desktop applications, as well as the mission-critical enterprise software that people use every day on the job.

Mobile mainly equals intermittent use. This does indicate a deeper level of user commitment than the ephemeral applications we often study on websites.

An example of a Web-based ephemeral app would be the customization and configuration utilities often found on car sites. For such apps, users have zero commitment and arrive at the first screen with no knowledge of the functionality beyond what they may have gleaned from passing through previous pages on that site. (And we all know how little users read during most website visits.) (Borchers, 2001)

Mobile apps score a little better than ephemeral website apps, because users actively decide to install them. This creates a minimum level of commitment to explore the app — though, as we found, this level is often very low indeed. Still, it's higher than zero.

Second, the app icon is a continuous presence on the phone, which acts as a tiny voice gnawing at the user to try it out. Again, this isn't a very strong force; humans are great at selective attention (as further discussed in our seminar on the human mind). Basically, people tune out anything they don't really want to pay attention to, so users' eyes pass by unused icons very quickly.

These are simply facts of the overall iPhone user experience: an app is easy to download from the App Store, and social pressure causes many "fun" apps to migrate quickly through large user pools. As a result, the "Springboard" (the app launching page) quickly becomes polluted with frivolous icons that people don't really need and don't use after leaving the bar or pub that evening (Chung, Hong, et al, 2004).

If you're designing a "serious" business app that you think offers real benefits to your customers, you might feel above the fray of rude-bodily-noise apps. But you're not. Frequent readers of this column might recall Jakob's Law of the Web User Experience: Users spend most of their time on other sites (than your site). Your website is part of the Web ecosystem, and your site's usability is dictated by the overall Web user experience, which is dominated by the sum of all other sites people visit.

When you're posting business information on social media sites, for example, that information has to live within your followers' personal space, which is constructed by their family and real friends. Similarly, if you're an iPhone app, your app is a smll part of the total app user experience.

Fair or not, that's life. Deal with it. Design for it.

The design patterns presented in this document follow a given structure. On the top level, they are grouped into the three main problem areas mentioned in ...
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