Mobiles

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!🙂

Portrait of smiling senior man using laptop on porch

Addicted to user research

I was recently invited to a business meal and as I found my place and settled down, I waited with happy anticipation for the others to arrive on my table. A quick look at the name cards told me that my direct table mates to my right and left were both males and judging from a quick look round the room they were going to be middle aged or older.

The gentleman to my right was the first to arrive, let’s imagine he was called John. John funnily enough did turn out to be middle aged but he was very clued up on technology, having run a social media agency in his past. He was a very interesting character, having previously worked in PR for celebrities and lived a rather extravagant life.

David

To my left was an older gentleman, let’s call him David. The curious researcher inside me lit up when I clocked David. Most of our clients want research with millennials, so although we do research with older people, it’s not that often. Yet I find talking to older people quite fascinating. They’re generally quite good at reflecting on their behaviour, on why they do what they do and it’s so enjoyable to listen to.

David was an intelligent gentleman. He’d had an incredibly successful career and worked in top positions in very high profile high street brands.  As I asked him about the technology he used and how he shops, I found myself entering research mode, engaging in a very interesting conversation about his shopping preferences and how they change depending on the type of product.

David and technology

I was curious as to the devices David owned. I was fairly surprised to hear that he owned a Macbook. Apple is a brand we generally associate with the younger audience, however, David was incredibly enthusiastic about his experience so far. When I questioned his choice, he immediately stated ‘ease of use’ as the key reason and that ‘it just works’. He told me all about the problems he used to have with Windows computers and how in comparison, his Mac was just so simple to use.

Do you think David had a tablet? Well, yes he did have a tablet. Knowing that many of the older generation are given hand me downs from sons/daughters, especially to communicate, when he told me that he used his tablet to communicate with his son and grandchildren in another country, I was quick to enquire how he had become the owner of an iPad – was it his love of Apple having an influence or was it indeed a hand me down? It turned out to be a hand me down from his son so they could keep in touch.

When it came to his mobile device, David was, I’d say, very typical of his generation. At this point he pulled out a mobile from his pocket that most young people would probably not even recognise and think belonged in a museum. It was an old, very worn, Nokia phone, with just a 0-9 keypad and a non-touch screen. Having a long mobile history myself (I used to work at Sony Ericsson on smartphones and turned down a job at Nokia) I just had to take a photo! I was quite overjoyed to see this relic still in use. He clearly still cared for it too, as he’d kept the plastic cover on the screen (see pic below).

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David explained that he had absolutely no need for one of these new types of phones. Everything he felt he needed a phone for he could do using his old Nokia. It was interesting but not surprising that although David had the latest computer and tablet tech, he had no interest in updating his phone. Ease of use was very important to him. For David, his Macbook made his life easier. His tablet made communication with his family easier. They had clear benefits. However, he saw his old Nokia, with it’s limited features as the simplest mobile for him. A smartphone with it’s array of features was perceived as a hindrance.

How does David shop?

When it came to shopping, David was more than happy to shop online using his Macbook. He was very satisfied with the convenience of shopping from the comfort of his home. However, I suspected there would be exceptions to this generalisation and when I explored more deeply, it was clear that David had different rules for different types of products and services that he purchased. There were some physical products that David insisted you needed to shop in person for. There was a clear theme throughout the examples he gave and that was products that have strong sensory qualities, particularly tactile qualities. One example David talked about was shoes because ‘you need to try them on to see what they’ll feel like’.

I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed speaking with David about his use of technology and how he shops. The older generation are often under-represented within businesses yet they’re an important consumer base to consider. It’s important to remember that as time progresses they are changing as consumers. They’re becoming more comfortable with technology, they’re owning the latest devices thanks to influence and hand me downs from their children, they’re seeing the benefits that technology can give them and with their children all grown up, they have plenty of disposable cash. But they’re clever shoppers. They want to know what they’re buying is the best for them and that it’s easy for them to use.

google

Google: Over 50% xmas enquiries will be mobile

Yesterday at the London e-commerce expo, Google’s Martijn Bertisen, spoke about e-commerce trends for 2015. Mobile is set to be BIG business and this christmas, over 50% of christmas retail enquiries are likely to come from smartphones. 2015 will be: The year that mobile takes over. The year of wearables – watch out for Google Glass. We’ll see this coming into the retail experience. Martijn said:

If there’s one message I wanted everybody to take away, it’s that what is increasingly enabling e-commerce is mobile devices. We’ve shifted from the desktop era into the mobile era and it’s still being underestimated… it’s where consumer behaviour is.

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New Next Gen Macbook Pro

apple-macbook-pro-wddc-2012

“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.”