User Experience Design for mobile apps is much more than you’d think

Once again, I recently started to read about User Experience (UX) design and, as always, I found that people tend to think about UX as something much, much smaller than it in fact is. However, this time I also decided to respond to these claims.

User Experience Design does not equal User Interface Design

Despite what many people think, and how these two areas are treated, User Experience and User Interface (UI) design are two separate entities. Maybe not entirely separate, but they’re surely not the same. I like to think that User Experience is a much broader field of study than User Interface design. I believe that UI is just one of the tools used in UX design.

Of course in the case of mobile apps development, UI plays a crucial part in achieving satisfactory UX level and shouldn’t be sidetracked. On the contrary, it should be the main focus of the development team, at least in the early stages of application development. After all, we tend to use apps that we find pleasant and with hundreds of applications that do “the same thing”, we’ll choose the one that just feels better – often regardless of if it has the most or best features.

At the same time, we must remember that UX isn’t UI. Even if many designers label themselves as “UX/UI designers” we should still make a clear distinction.

User Interface is NOT everything

What UX takes into consideration that UI simply cannot is each and every contact between the user and the application, and the impact it has on the user. This means things like customer service and the way notifications are written. This also means the things users know about an application before they download it, so the whole marketing of the app, as well as the things users will know only after they download the app and use it for some time. Take payments for example.

Is it an Android game based on microtransactions that willingly or unwillingly promotes Pay-2-Win model? Or maybe it’s a mobile version of a tool for project managers that lets them easily track their team progress anywhere, anytime. All seem fine and dandy, except someone decided to additionally charge you for the access to the mobile app. Add to that a possible cut out of the most useful functionalities from the desktop version to slim down the mobile version which rendered the app practically useless. It is all part of the user experience, for good or bad.

UX challenges in mobile apps

Payments are just one of the possible problems that a competent User Experience designer should solve. I find three UX problems that are specific to mobile application development.

First is the lack of respect for the user’s memory space and connectivity. In most cases, there is client-side storage involved in app use. So don’t just use lively, high-resolution, uncompressed images as the background for all your 60 screens. Most mobile phones offer a couple of GB in memory. Don’t force your user to choose between your application and his favorite playlist. In most cases, the playlist will prevail and you’ll lose.

Next is the “it feels right” aspect (on which I partially wrote here). With Apple, it isn’t as hard, but with hundreds of models using Android OS present on the market? Just test the entire interface and all screens on all possible models in all possible configurations. Luckily, we can help you with that!

Lastly, please don’t forget the “MOBILE” in “mobile apps”. In many cases, your app will be used while commuting on the bus or train, in shopping malls, or in places with bad internet connection. Take it into account. In my opinion, this is what makes UX in mobile apps so difficult.

And what do you find most difficult and/or irritating in mobile apps UX? Feel free to share in the comments.

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