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Avoiding the Miserable Mobile User Experience

2009 August 14

Mobile User Experience matters, and most organizations are getting it wrong.

Like marketing, the look, feel, flow, and functionality of an any application is an intangible that organizations are tempted to skimp on when pressed for time, budget, or both. Similarly, a flawed user experience is likely to be as bad for business as a flawed (or absent) marketing plan. Also like marketing, user experience can be measured but the results sometimes are dismissed.

“The Mobile User Experience is Miserable” says Jakob Nielsen a respected Mobile User Experience expert in a July 2009 study, “It’s neither easy nor pleasant to use the Web on mobile devices. Observing user suffering during our sessions reminded us of the very first usability studies we did with traditional websites in 1994. It was that bad.”

Executives, Programmers, and project managers all tend to focus on reducing scope and getting the product out the door. Many of us wrap ourselves in constraints (read: excuses) as to why suggested user interface changes won’t work. The code technically works, we’re behind schedule, and we’re losing money. Ship it!

So, the fundamental question to executives is “Do you want mobile to make you money?”

If the answer is “yes”, then it requires discipline like any other business initiative. The fundamental business goals must be defined. The user experience must be well designed and well tested. The marketing plan must address the right demographics.

If we slap together a clone of the site designed for a PC, which isn’t anything like a phone, we almost guarantee failure. In fact, when Nielsen tested WAP sites in the same study, he found that tasks took users 38% longer in 2009 than in 2000! Phones are faster but perhaps we’re trying to do more and ultimately slowing ourselves down.

Nielsen says, “almost every design decision must be made in the context of the [mobile internet] site being designed, and what works for [one] site may not work for another.” The complexity of phone capabilities, application features, differing contexts, user skill variations and multiplying platforms and technologies often requires professional help in each specialized discipline.

Doing it right means budgeting time and money properly. Cutting corners risks delaying projects even further, damage to your brand, and the expense of convincing customers to give you a second chance when you get your act together.

Look for upcoming announcements for my webcast addressing this and other mobile strategy issues.

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