Your Users On Mobile

gondolier on phone
Credit: Flickr / Yari Simone Prete

I think I first rode the tube in London about 10 years ago. Now I ride the tube a bunch, and sometimes I see people doing something I find really weird.

Reading a physical book. Sometimes – especially odd – a large, hardback book. Who carries such a thing around with them, when you can carry hundreds of books at a tiny fraction of the weight?

I’m sure 10 years ago people were reading books on the tube. And that it did not seem weird at all.

More “normal” on the tube, is use of a smart phone. It is our most intimate device, always close to hand, there to while away the time.

This is how we use our phones. Whenever we have a minute, here and there. Always with something else going on. Whatever the technical capabilities of “multitasking” on the device, the screen only supports viewing one app at a time, yet it is so rare that is all we are doing. We go back and forth, here’s my stop, woah that guy is reading a book, “let me offer you my seat, ma’am”, oh back to the device. Or watching TV, oh, ads over, back to the program. Bored, back to the phone, wait, a Kardashian is getting married? Back to the TV.

Long term, the trend is that people will be able to do everything they do on their computer, on their mobile device. Already Ebay sells 13,000 cars a year through it’s mobile app.

We expect things to be easy, on the phone, we use the apps that work well, that entertain us or offer us something we want, whether it’s connection, or amusement (as of 2009, eight of the top ten paid iOS apps were games). If it’s painful, why suffer, we can put it off to later, when we’re near a computer.

By which time we may well have forgotten about it.

I think this has a few implications for how we approach creating experiences on mobile.

Firstly, it has to be a good experience. It’s rare we will suffer through a painful experience on a phone, it has to be a real emergency. If, say, you’re at the airport and have forgotten to apply for an ESTA.

When you start expecting users to be distracted, I think you run into some other concerns.

Consistency. Something isn’t getting my full attention, so when something not where I’m absent mindedly poking, it’s more jarring. Consistency is king.

Call to actions need to be clear, it’s easy to forget what I was doing there in the first place. I’m also liable to forget what I filled in to get to this point, so keep reminding me.

Texting while driving, is worse for response times than being drunk; it is six times as dangerous as driving drunk.

This is the cognitive cost of multitasking. This is your user on mobile – they are distracted, a cognitive impairment equivalent to that of a few vodkas.

When we create mobile experiences, we shouldn’t underestimate that. Little things, that it’s easy to write off as no big deal, a UX designer getting too worked up about.

Think about the last time you came home drunk, and had to focus to put your key in the lock. Or the last time you were super jet lagged, to the point where you had a hard time directing the cab driver to where you live. Or when you had your wisdom teeth out and took a bunch of narcotics.

This is your user on mobile. Multitasking. It makes sense to allow for it.

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