Mobile UX and ‘thick users’

7 years ago today my time with Sony Ericsson came to an end.

I used to work for them as a software and hardware usability specialist. Our part of the company was dedicated to smartphones. Back then, they weren’t mainstream. They were incredibly expensive, a status symbol, mostly owned by business people. Perhaps you had one? (leave a comment if you did!)

At that time, there were no guidelines in the public domain for smartphone UI design. When it came to things like navigation, fundamentals, hit areas, button sizes, tactile feedback, hardware ergonomics, we had to design and test everything from scratch. And this was much more difficult than it is today.

Design and prototyping

Believe it or not those lovely prototyping tools you’re used to using didn’t exist back in the early smartphone days. Seriously, count yourselves lucky you have these! The UI design team used to use Adobe products for design. For prototyping, Macromedia Director and Flash were firm favourites.

For the early flip style smartphones, we had to design not just for one style of interaction (full touch) but there were actually three interaction paradigms!

1. Full touch. This is like what you have with your current smartphone – the full UI has touch interaction.

2. Full flip keypad. With the flip closed, the UI could be fully navigated and interacted with just using the hardware keys on the flip.

3. Combined: Touch and keypad. With the flip in the closed position, the touchscreen shrunk to the smaller size but it could still be pressed using touch. The UI could also be fully navigated and interacted with using the hardware keys on the flip. This meant for a complex interaction style. Everything that was designed had to be tested with three interaction paradigms – complex stuff!

Old skool mobile user research

User testing meant looking over the user’s shoulder to see what they were doing. This was coupled with note taking at the speed of lightning to miss as little as possible!

Conducting research with mobile users years ago was fun to say the least. We didn’t have the means to record mobile UIs, so it meant looking over the user’s shoulder to see what they were doing. This was coupled with note taking at the speed of lightning to miss as little as possible and get everything down before you forgot it, being mindful that as you were scribbling, you were missing further user interaction. As the researcher, you then had to also follow your discussion guide and focus on maintaining the flow of the interview. I developed the knack of note taking without looking at the paper in the end – it wasn’t pretty but it worked a treat!

HIPPOs and developers

Developers were particularly problematic and I remember seeing red once when one  said to me I must have asked ‘thick users’

At the end of the research there was no video evidence so then began the battle of convincing stakeholders. Developers were particularly problematic and I remember seeing red once when one said to me I must have asked ‘thick users’ because my research findings didn’t agree with their personal opinion. Seriously… I’ve heard it all! Patience is a definite requirement of any UX person and fortunately I have bags of it – queue a big friendly smile and a simple explanation of why users aren’t thick.

HIPPOs were also a huge problem. This is when the highest paid persons opinion overrules everyone else (in our case this was made worse by the fact the top decision makers were based in another country). It’s still incredibly common in companies and the only way to overcome it is to get the HIPPO on your side. Befriend them, educate them, show them evidence, let them think they’re making the decision.

Get the HIPPO on your side. Befriend them, educate them, show them evidence, let them think they’re making the decision

Running around corridors after users…

I remember a time when I wanted to replicate more natural usage of mobile, so I tasked users with walking down the corridor whilst carrying out tasks. Of course, this meant I had to scurry along behind them, trying to see what they were doing whilst making notes, remembering my guide, asking questions, etc, etc. It won’t come as a surprise to you to hear I didn’t do this again in a hurry! There’s only so much multi tasking one person is capable of.

Mobile research is so much easier now, thankfully!

Twinkeys and no keys… dealing with poor hardware usability

Our industrial designers were based over in Sweden, silo’d from the UI team. One day the hardware would just turn up and there’d be crucial functions missing that had been specified in the software. This then meant a long battle to make changes. I’m a qualified ergonomist so I adapted my role to include focus on hardware usability and worked on building relationships with the ID team. This worked really well and in the end they genuinely appreciated having someone to review their early design mockups and be the intermediary between them and the UI team.

Everyone benefits from capturing potential issues as early as possible

What happened to mobile innovation?

I was fortunate to make my way into several future concept groups and to help define some incredible future technology for mobile devices. There were some amazing things in the pipeline that I still haven’t seen on any devices. It feels as though mobile innovation has come to a bit of a standstill since the iPhone. I’m really looking forward to the day when the next big tech change in mobile happens.

7 years on…mobile is bigger than ever!

So, 7 years have passed… how did time go so fast!? Mobile is now bigger than ever and smartphones are mainstream. Most of my work in mobiles now involves helping companies to improve their mobile website conversion or their mobile app user experience.

Despite the fact that mobile is now huge, it remains the most difficult platform to design for

So many well known brands still make obvious mistakes in their mobile experiences.

There’s a real opportunity to stand out if your brand offers the best mobile experience

Need help with mobile?

Then you’re looking in the right place! At this point I should probably point out that at Keep It Usable, we also have the UX designer of the first ever smartphone.

Our mobile expertise is unrivalled

We know mobile design and user behaviour on mobile inside out, we know what works.

PS If you used to own a Sony Ericsson smartphone let me know!🙂

New Next Gen Macbook Pro


“It’s without doubt the best computer we’ve ever built!”

If you’re an Apple fan then you’re probably feeling pretty excited right now. WWDC was held yesterday (you can watch it here) and Apple have finally launched the next generation of Macbook Pros. Thankfully they’ve met and exceeded most people’s expectations, with the new Macbook Pro showing off an incredibly slim casing, superb retina display, high performance and attention to little details such as the lowering the noise of the fan (yes seriously!). I don’t know of any company that would value the user experience to such detail.

New Macbook Pro Overview:

new macbook pro spec
It’s very impressive and I’m already reaching for my purse. The question is whether to wait until July which is when Mountain Lion is released. There’s a free upgrade for anyone purchasing the Pro if you buy now, or like my other half plans to do, you could wait until next month which also gives Apple some time to solve any issues there may be with the new hardware design.

I’m not as impressed with iOS 6. It may surprise you to know that I’ve never owned an Apple mobile, despite my love of all things Apple (well, except iTunes which needs a complete redesign). For most people, their mobile is an extension of themselves, of their own personality. I find the iPhone form factor to be quite masculine. It feels expensive and high quality but I just can’t connect with it. There is one thing that keeps pulling me to Android and that is Widgets. As far as user experience is concerned they enable a shorter, more efficient and effective interaction. I can simply turn on my backlight and I instantly know the weather, the latest news, read a note to myself (usefulness), and I can see a photo of my other half with the cats (emotional attachment, love). It all adds up to a nice experience. iOS may have better usability and apps than Android, but I personally believe they need to add more fun, emotion, usefulness and wow factors into their mobile desktop to have increased emotional appeal.

Getting back to the new Macbook Pro, here are a few quotes from WWDC relating to User Experience that I wholeheartedly agree with.

“To create something that’s genuinely new, you have to start again and I think with great intent you disconnect from the past.”

“If you never change anything then what you can engineer is kind of incremental. But when you’re willing to change things then you kind of open up a whole new world of design.”

Nice Predictive Text Entry Method by Blackberry

I started my UX career as a Smartphone Researcher. I remember when we took the plunge to remove the hardware keypad and go full touch. Users complained that they wanted and needed a hard keypad to enter text. They saw T9 as vital to quick text entry – it could be done one handed and even blindly by many users. I admit myself to being able to text without even looking at my phone, it was great for multi-tasking, like shopping whilst texting😉

But users can adapt to change very quickly despite their initial reservations and look at everyone now using full touch devices to enter text. How far we’ve come! But, there is still the problem of longer text entry times, needing to use two hands and being more prone to errors. So I’m rather impressed by Blackberry’s approach to improving the touchscreen text entry user experience to be faster and more intuitive. Check it out and see what you think…

5 Reasons Why Tablet Growth Will Soar This Year

mobile and tablet growth


The above chart clearly shows both mobile and tablet growing over the coming years. However, the growth shown for Tablets is fairly steady. I am largely in disagreement with this. I think the growth of Tablets will be phenomenal over the next 2 years for these reasons:

Reason 1: They’re the lazy man’s computer.

People talk of mobiles as being the lazy man’s computer because you always have your phone on you 24 hours a day and it’s much quicker to quickly search for something than to power up a computer. However, with their small screens, mobiles aren’t the most pleasant way to experience websites, to look at something with friends/colleagues, to view larger amounts of information, to read an e-book, etc.

Reason 2: They’re the portable computer

Yes I know mobiles are portable computers too but once again they lack that larger screen which is necessary for so many things. I was in a coffee shop yesterday and a group of students were sat at the table next to me. One of them had an iPad and was using it to show his friends various things. It became a social experience which would be much more difficult on a small screen. Within the business world, tablets provide a more portable, more impactful means to showcase work to clients.

Reason 3: Statistics are already starting to show phenomenal growth

Tablet sales rose an incredible 60% in the first quarter this year for Verizon Wireless.

Reason 4: They’re the ideal device for children

Children love touching and interacting with things directly so tablets are ideal for engaging them and helping them to learn whilst also having fun. Research by Nielsen found nearly 70 percent of children in households with tablets use them and they are often used outside of the home to keep children entertained on journeys.

Reason 5: They’re cheap!

The price is incredible. Cheaper than the average smartphone and computer. With offers like the one below surely Tablet growth is set to soar!

really cheap tablet

Creative Designs (

Whilst drinking my morning coffee and carrying out my internet browse ritual, I came across a great site called This site is full of amazing real and concept creative products pulled from across the web into one place. If you’re looking for inspiration or just looking to be entertained by clever designs, this is the place for you.

Being an Apple fanatic, my personal favourite is the ’10 Beautiful Apple iPhone Concept Designs’ page. The transparent phone looks awesome but still too large for my liking. One of the downsides of the iPhone for me is the grip it requires to use. As a woman with woman hands I find it too bulky to hold securely. If it had a smaller width or if it went on a diet to become a bit thinner, it would enable me to gain a more secure power grip on it, to use comfortably and confidently one-handed.


Personally I would go for either the ‘iPhone Concept from Japan’ or the ‘iPhone with ichat Concept’ because they look like phones that I could actually use but they are still cool and stylish. Importantly, the large screen size is also retained for watching videos and browsing the net.


And if you missed it last year, take a look at these concept designs and watch the youtube video at the bottom of the page. Fun fun fun!


For all you fellow coffee lovers you must check out the ’24 Modern Mugs and Creative Mug Designs’ page. There are some amazing designs that are purely fun but also some really well thought out ergonomic designs too. I really like the Me cup:

The cup has empty chambers in its wall to prevent burns and to isolate the hot liquid. The cup comes with a saucer, which also has its role to play because it can be transformed in a lid to keep the heat inside and serves as a locking system to stack and store them on top of each other – Nice!!!


And finally, check out the ’14 Creative Advertisements’. There is great one by 3M who chose to advertise their unbreakable security glass by placing hundreds of dollar notes inside the glass at a bus stop. What a unique and brave idea! Well I thought so until I found out that:

‘Actually, it was only $500 of real currency stacked on top of fake money, and people could only use their feet to try to break it. A security guard was present to make sure no one broke the rules and that people couldn’t get to keep the money if they broke it’.

Suddenly their unbreakable glass is not sounding so unbreakable anymore…


Idou… do u? Sony Ericsson Smartphone announced

Today, I logged in to my work pc to see a mail telling me that one of our smartphone babies has now been announced – hurrah!🙂 This is the first Sony Ericsson S60 touch tablet device. The big news that they’ve worked very hard to keep secret is the 12mp camera. For a long time we have all pretended that this is 8mp (any flash demos had to have the mp changed from 12 to 8 just in case they got leaked). The name Idou is new to us, we had a secret project name for this phone until today. It will be given another new name, more in keeping with Sony Ericsson release models when it comes onto the market. 

My part in the project was sole responsibility of the hardware usability and joint responsibility for the software usability. The Standby UI that you see on the demo videos was usability tested by me using good old laminated paper prototyping methods with our fabulous local user base. 

Sadly this is the last Sony Ericsson phone I can put my name to as the Manchester site will be closing and my redundancy date is drawing ever closer. I will try and post more details for you on the Idou once we have the ‘all clear’. For now though, I hope you enjoy these videos:

Palm Pre: First Thoughts

Today, thanks to the (not so) smartfilter being removed from my work laptop, I have been able to watch a great video on the new Palm Pre! Here are my first thoughts.



Pretty cool and sleek. Smaller than the iPhone with nice rounded edges. My guess is they have managed to keep the size down due to the 3mp camera (these are the major space eaters in mobiles). A capacitive touchscreen enables the use of gestures and multi-touch (ladies trim those fingernails if you want this phone). The slide-out qwerty keyboard distinguishes this from the iPhone giving peace of mind for those users who like  tactile feedback and the reassurance of physical hardware keys. The phone has a slight curve to it when the slider is open, which palm have marketed as ergonomic… I would say it looks nice but to claim that it is ergonomic? hmm…. 


The UI is very familiar (think iPhone). They have tried to keep all options hidden away to maximise what you see on the screen and declutter the interface. So within contacts there is just one nice big onscreen button to press to add a contact. Then when you select a contact there is a big edit button. Nice. You get the idea.

Surprisingly there is no option to ‘Save’ anything. I understand their reasoning for this and they believe this is a fantastic benefit, however, I know from observations in my previous user studies that ‘Save’ is important to users. We once changed this word to ‘Done’ and just that slight change caused users no end of problems. Saving is more about positive confirmation and peace of mind. We have been brought up in a world where you have to Save everything you do on a computer or a mobile, so it actually goes against the users’ mental model to not save. It will be very interesting to see how learnable this is – can we let go of this need to Save easily? 

Gestures and interaction:

Interaction with the phone requires a mixture of gestures and pressing the only key on the front of the phone (they call this the ‘Centre key’). It is in the exact same location as the iPhone’s home key and what do you think this button does? I’m guessing you’re thinking it must be the panic button that all phones have (AKA red/home key that takes you back to the home screen), the ‘argh! I’m lost, I’m off back to the beginning’ key. Well they have chosen to go against the industry standard and instead, use this key for multitasking. From what I can see on the demo, the only way to get back ‘Home’ is to use the back gesture. Alarm bells started to ring with me when the guy demonstrating this gesture says that to go back he flicks back “in the gesture area from right to left like I’m turning the page in a book”. Erm… hang on a minute…if you flick from right to left to turn a page you’re going forwards a page, not back to the previous page. It also feels easier and safer (more grip on the phone) to flick from left to right one-handed, using the thumb.

I quite like the swipe up gesture to get to the application menu. However, there is another swipe up gesture to get to your Wave dock (AKA Shortcuts) but with this gesture you have to make sure you drag slower and keep your finger on the screen until you have selected just underneath the item you want. This is quite a different interaction style to the rest of the phone as you aren’t selecting the item onscreen, rather, you are selecting just underneath the icon and it is when you lift your finger (deselect) that the selection activates (see the picture below, the white spot represents your finger). I think they may have been better combining the shortcuts with the application menu and visually make it clear that they are separate. Keep it simple guys. The Wave dock in action:

Shortcuts Menu - Drag up gesture

Other stuff:

Ok enough of the potential usability issues. Personally, I was really impressed with the Palm synergy functionality. This enables you to bring together all the information you have on a person from multiple places (Outlook, Facebook, Google) all into one place in your Contacts app. Simple! 

The calendar has a small but cool feature that I liked. It compresses any empty space so that you can see for example an appointment you have at 9am and one at 7pm all on the same screen (assuming you have nothing inbetween). 

The aggregated IM stuff sounds great, and how cool is it that you can start an IM chat with someone then when they go offline you can just change to texting them and it all shows in the same conversational messaging window! 

To conclude, we must congratulate Mr Palm Pre for doing a really decent effort as an iPhone competitor. I’m still going to keep my fingers crossed for an iPhone Nano though. Please Mr Jobs… please…