In 2017 the worldwide device shipments of smartphones and tablets was 1,635 million, versus 262 million PCs.

Compared to previous eras of computing, in the Mobile Era the computer is in your hand and everybody has one.

There are lots of devices, so there’s the potential for our product/service to have lots of users. We have the potential to build our audiences more quickly.

But how well have we learned to design for smartphone?

Compared to the major technological leap represented by the iPhone, many of the developments for smartphone we’ve seen since then seem to be iterations that start somewhere then take years to only come full circle. Examples include Twitter and Facebook’s mobile navigation, Ebay’s homepage design, and Apple’s Calculator app.

This is reminiscent of Adobe’s repeated tinkering with Illustrator’s Tools palette (for desktop PCs), to no great end.

Are we just trying to apply desktop-y thinking to mobile?

If we’re iterating, ask: what greater goal or vision are we iterating towards?

Remove barriers by making interactions natural

Log-in forms on mobile traditionally require the user to type in i) a username and ii) a password which is usually obscured.

The amount of misery this experience doles out on a planetary scale is astounding.

Failed log-in attempts not only frustrate but according to statistics also cause people to abandon purchases.

Revealing the password on demand is better.

Sign in by fingerprint is much better.

And what if your face were your password (like Apple’s Face ID)? That’s better still. That’s a step change.

We need step change – not just iteration.

Make the technology work the way people work – not vice versa.

Examples of Natural User Interfaces

Amazon Dash Button

Stick a Tide button on your washing machine and when you run out of detergent just hit the button and your new supply shows up the next day.

It’s a frictionless experience.

Amazon Go Store

They knew that in the traditional shopping experience, checkout (queues, machines that don’t work etc) presents a major point of friction. With this new type of store, they removed checkout and removed that point of friction.

There’s a lot of complicated tech going on beneath the surface, but the store masks its technical complexity to the customer, leading to happy humans.

Don’t expose the technical stuff.

We want humans to get the good parts of the technology and not have to deal with the crap.

Apple AirPods

They just work. Take them out near your device and they connect automatically. Put them on and the music starts playing. Take them off and the music stops playing. Put them in their case and they charge.

They work the way you would expect them to, i.e. it’s frictionless.

We want natural user interfaces. Technology that bends to the way humans work.

Seek natural user interfaces over graphical user interfaces as our goal and inspiration.

Try to make things simple.

Optimise for short sessions

On mobile, people engage in lots of short sessions: sometimes 80 times a day.

For those types of short interactions, slow load times and cumbersome experiences result in increased cognitive load and stress.

As developers, to make the user experience better we should:

  • take the work on ourselves;
  • learn from the user’s past behaviour to present options intelligently second time around; and
  • make use of sensors/hardware.

Some common online requirements which can be more natural

Log in - traditionally accomplished by completing a form – is evolving through touch and Face ID.

Checkout - traditionally accomplished by completing multiple forms – is evolving through swipe (Amazon Prime), or no checkout at all (see Amazon Go).

GUIs in general: in some cases we can evolve to dispense with the GUI completely, as is the case with the Amazon Dash button.

Conclusion: Mobile Design Today

  1. Immense Opportunity (mobile devices, audience, growth, revenue at global scale);
  2. Optimize for Today (for critical interactions many improvements are possible now);
  3. Aim for the Future (Set vision and iterate toward it; NUIs (Natural User Interfaces) as a guiding star).

My next actions

  • Check Luke’s UX How-To Videos.
  • Design forms that make the person think “this will be a breeze” rather than “this will be painful”.
  • Reduce the number of inputs, avoid splitting inputs (e.g. name), use inline validation (e.g. on an address field), use input masks (credit card numbers) and “scan card” feature, use smart defaults.