Some Future Considerations for Mobile Design

Posted by Taylor Haney on Wed, Dec 11, 2013

Another great guest post for our blog this month is written by Brian Yoder of Roundarch Isobar. Brian discusses some issue that arise as we look to the future of mobile design and experience. If you are a MITX member interested in guest blogging e-mail taylor [at] mitx [dot] org to get involved!

Brian YoderBrian is a technically skilled usability professional with proven success in developing and implementing web, mobile, enterprise and commercial applications. He has over 14 years of experience focused on creating interactive experiences for Fortune 500 clients and top-tier organizations playing the role as researcher, designer, developer and strategist. At Roundarch Isobar, Brian is responsible for managing complex projects and leading teams to define concepts into compelling experiences that inform, educate and delight customers. He received his Masters of Science in Human Factors in Information Design from Bentley University in 2004, focusing on prototyping, artificial intelligence and usability inspection methods.

As a UX practitioner, I am always looking at current trends, statistics and best practices to shape the experience that I am designing. While it is important to live in the present, it’s imperative to also consider planning for future experiences. With mobile, the once moving target around mobile design has slowly come into focus. In anticipating the future of mobile, here are some issues that are keeping me up at night.

Better Yet Familiar

When designing the Mailbox app, Gentry Underwood highlighted the importance of simplicity when adding value to the app’s mobile experience. In his talk with Janko Roettgers, Senior Writer for Gigaom, Gentry talks about "Better Yet Familiar" when referencing interactions. In short, designers should be leveraging current gestures, patterns, experiences and fine-tuning them to provide the optimal experience for the user. When designing mobile interactions, we need to recognize that the best experiences are those already built off a framework of existing established behaviors. Similar to the 'Reuse Trinity' outlined by Hoekman and Spool in Web Anatomy: Interaction Design Frameworks that Work, key design patterns for mobile devices can be constructed into frameworks for designing common mobile experiences (i.e. establishing a framework for displaying results; we don't need pagination controls with mobile, it's OK to scroll). Of course, differences between operating systems must be taken into consideration, but building (and enhancing) mobile frameworks helps establish experiences users are familiar with.

The Mobile Habit

Consider the explosion of wearable devices and the idea of the Internet of Things, most -- if not all -- of these devices are constantly tethered to a mobile device for communication. Device centralization around mobile is becoming the standard and designing symbiotic experiences now requires a different level of thinking. Providing contextual feedback, ensuring connectivity between devices and dealing with power requirements are some of the considerations designers need to plan for. But more importantly, the dependency that mobile devices have within this relationship requires a deeper understanding around habits in relation to frequent mobile use. Designers need to consider the Habit Loop focusing on cues, their corresponding routines and the value rewards that follow (based on Duhigg's Power of Habit.) If our mobile devices continue to become an integral, centralized part of our daily routine, designers need to ensure that the corresponding experiences provide the same lasting value.

The Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility

This leads me to a potential concern based on one of the few nuggets of information I retained from economics class: the Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility. It deals with the declining value or satisfaction of a product or service as a person increases consumption of that item. Similar to eating your favorite meal, it no longer becomes appealing when you have it every day. Over time, your enjoyment becomes less and less; the perception of that meal is no longer favorable.

Should we be concerned that our constant interaction with mobile experiences may lead to a malaise with our devices? Look at the statistics: If 56% of people in this world own a smartphone, why are consumers spending time in just 6.5 apps within a 30 day period when they are utilizing their phones 80% of the time within that time frame? Given the fact that consumers will download 70 billion apps in 2013, why are we content with 6.5 apps?

What to Consider and Plan For

As we continue to design mobile experiences, we need to recognize that there are already established patterns that users anticipate when interacting with their devices. Our mobile habit will continue to grow, requiring designers to ground themselves in mobile frameworks that are familiar and predictable. Where there are opportunities to enhance a key interaction, we need to ensure that any changes will not deviate too far from the established, familiar pattern.

That said, with the increase in mobile usage, designers need to consider where there are opportunities to create truly memorable and rewarding mobile interactions that stand out. Otherwise, the 6.5 app usage number will never budge, and that may keep everyone up at night.