Mobile applications are, of course, more than a novel idea or an add-on element of a business today. It’s the norm. But just as we saw happen with the web in the late 1990s, there is a tendency to jump before thinking. We’re still learning and experimenting as we figure out what works best and what doesn’t work at all. But, that doesn’t mean design trends and best practices aren’t emerging. Step one is thinking about what’s on the device and that means thinking about user interface and mobile sites.
The central theme is and always should be, keep it simple, but this is true for any type of information design and user interface. Just as important is to remember the underlying motivations and the role of context in the mobile app design process. People are mobile, not just the devices, which means complications arise in aligning what we want to do or can do with the technology vs. what is actually going on when shopping. People shop because they need products, but they also shop because it is entertaining, solidifies cultural norms, etc. Because of that, there are a host of pitfalls that can emerge when mobile shopping apps are simply thrown out there because of a perceived need on the part of retailers to have a mobile presence. The app and the device are not the focus, the act of shopping is.
So, what can you do to make your mobile presence relevant rather than a distraction? Here are some tips to creating a positive mobile experience:
- Video is cool, but not if it gets in the way of doing a job. Video should not auto-play because it eats up bandwidth and prevents people from getting to the act of interacting with products in the retail space. The more you hinder the process, the more likely people are to simply turn to another retailer. Also, avoid Flash and other closed formats that aren’t compatible with all devices. The last thing you want to do is alienate your customers.
- Avoid colors and fonts that can’t be read outside. Remember, the key word here is “mobile” and that means people will be out and about, using their devices in a multitude of environments. If the font is too small or they can’t see what’s on the screen, they won’t bother with the app or the store. They’ll find another way of getting what they need and want.
- A site that is optimized for mobile doesn’t scroll. Just because someone can view your site on a mobile device doesn’t make it a mobile site. This isn’t a web page and shouldn’t behave as one. The more people have to scroll with a small device, the more likely they are to abandon it. Remember, people are walking, talking and looking about, not just focusing on the screen in front of them. Add the fact that hand to eye coordination is split between the app and managing their environment and you can run into problems if they have to scroll through pages of information to find what they need.
- Make clickable objects usable. Another key component is the issue of navigation and clickable regions, which is predominantly a problem with touch screen mobile devices. For example, if a person has big hands or limited mobility, clicking on something small on the screen without having to zoom into it is flat out painful. Ensuring that your mobile layout has large and easy-to-press links and clickable objects will be essential in streamlining the experience. Reducing the amount of clicks required to achieve an action is all the more important in mobile web designs.
- Content is king. Of all the components of a site, none plays a more vital role than the text. But while content is king even on handheld devices — the need for scrolling, small file sizes, quick readability and bandwidth restraints means that we have to reengineer our copy to ensure that it’s useful. If your design is simply a modification/adaptation of your existing website layout, then hide unnecessary text, images or media. The real advantages come from a separate design where you can purge the marketing talk and excessive content.
- Finally, know your devices. What constitutes “mobile” is increasingly broad and will no doubt continue to change with time. Always remember that the app you build will be used on a range of products with a range of operating systems. Know what you are willing and able to support. Remember also that this is about more than the technology, it’s about behavior. There was a time that breaking out your cell phone in a public space was considered rude. Today, it is perfectly normal. Similarly, while the majority of shoppers are still growing accustomed to using their iPad or tablet in-store, it’s only a matter of time before use of these devices as in-store shopping aids will be the rule rather than the exception. Be prepared for how shifts in behavior will change where, when and how people use their devices.
Remember these basic, simple practices when designing a new mobile shopping app and you will be rewarded. Your shoppers will be happy, and as revenues increase, so will you.