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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Words of guidance about the design of mobile apps

Some more words of wisdom from Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox, this time about the design of mobile apps. As with most of Nielsen’s comments they are most definitely worth the read. Here is what he has to say.

Most mobile applications are used only intermittently, so they must be especially easy during initial use. In particular, upfront registration shouldn't be required before users experience an app's benefits.

His "master guideline" remains the same as in 1986: don't port a UI from an old interface paradigm to a new one. In the past, this meant not slapping a GUI on top of something that was inherently a clunky mainframe flow. Now, it means not adding touch-screen access to a desktop-oriented direct manipulation design — users can't touch as precisely as they can click, so the number of manipulable graphical objects should be much smaller (so that each one can be much bigger). This is particularly valid for older users.

Nielsen’s main conclusion from watching iPhone app users is that they suffered much less misery than users in our mobile website tests. In fact, testing people using iPhone apps produced happier outcomes than testing people attempting to use websites on the same phone.

On mobile devices, applications are easier to use than websites. Browser-based sites would be easier to use if designers started following more mobile usability guidelines.

Why are apps better than sites for mobile? Because the more impoverished the device, the more the design must be optimized for the platform's exact abilities, instead of bowing to a cross-platform common denominator. Wise words. Dick Stroud

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