User-friendly design in the mobile-first world – by AppsFlyer’s Paul Wright

By Paul Wright, general manager, Western Europe and MENAT, AppsFlyer

The past decade has heralded major changes in the ways people access the web — and it is mobile that’s very clearly come out on top. In the UAE, a huge 97.6 per cent of people are smartphone users, one of the highest penetration rates in the world. Not only that, but almost three-quarters of internet users are forecast to access the web purely through their smartphones by 2025. That is a lot of people — and what’s more, they have sky-high expectations of their mobile experience.

With this massive swing towards mobile, it’s no surprise that companies are increasingly prioritising mobile-first when it comes to website and app design. But what does this mean, and how can you make sure that your mobile channels are living up to users’ high demands so your organisation can make the most of this enormous opportunity?

Why mobile-first matters

In the not-too-distant past, developers started with the desktop site, before scaling down to mobile. But, with the significant transition to mobile, that approach simply doesn’t make sense anymore — the priority audience must be smartphone users. Now, developers should design for mobile first and foremost, before expanding into a desktop version. This is far more likely to create that seamless and slick user experience (UX) that customers have progressively come to expect.

Today, it’s important to have both a mobile website and an app, with each of them providing standout UX and performance. Attention spans are short and time is limited, so it’s vital to offer a smooth, quick mobile service to engage and keep customers. Your mobile sites and apps are an excellent opportunity for brand-building and encouraging loyalty and advocacy.

The experts at the Interaction Design Foundation stated that, “a user’s comprehension is 50 per cent less on a mobile device, which means that content, navigation, and visual design elements must be twice as intuitive as they are on a desktop.” This proves just how essential it is that developers get it right when designing successful mobile sites and apps.

Mobile-first design tips and tricks

Following these steps will help guide your mobile-first approach — and ensure you’re providing that all-important first-rate UX with your mobile apps and sites.

Know your customer: For a mobile-first design strategy which ticks all the boxes, it’s first necessary to understand your customers — what they expect from an app or website, and how they’re likely to use it. Great UX is rooted in deep insights into customers’ expectations and behaviours.

Familiar and intuitive navigation: People expect certain functions to sit in particular places, so it’s good sense to follow this convention as it makes for a much more intuitive UX. Don’t hide search functionality in a menu or make users zoom in and limit the need for lots of scrolling. Provide a single-click route back to home from anywhere and ensure the most important links are always clearly visible. The more familiar and intuitive an experience is, the more engaged and less frustrated users will be.

Purposeful calls to action: Show people what they should be doing, and how, and ensure any actions are effortless for the user. Above-the-fold space should provide easy access to common tasks. Feedback and real-time validation ensure users know what’s going on, so they’re not left wondering. And if people need help — make it simple, so they can chat or call with a single click.

Streamlined and simple: Users want a straightforward experience, so design your sites and apps with as little content, clutter and interruptions as possible. Don’t stop people exploring by insisting on upfront registrations or seemingly unnecessary requests for data, and don’t interrupt their flow with pop-ups, offers or new windows. Try to create continuity between your desktop and mobile sites so users can swap seamlessly between them, and pre-fill as much data as possible. Split multi-step processes into short tasks and offer other ways to interact, such as through voice. Allow single-sign-on and guest checkouts.

Clear, clever design: Every design element needs to be carefully considered to make life easier for users. Avoid screen glare by offering visual contrasts, and don’t use long drop-down menus for choices — instead use visuals, like a calendar for picking dates. Ensure target areas for making selections are big enough and there’s an obvious visual hierarchy of different heading levels. Remember, most people use their thumbs to navigate, so most selections should be firmly in the ‘thumb zone.’

Test, test, test: This one’s obvious, but worth repeating. Check and test every screen, step and action on real-life devices and adapt as necessary.

Embracing mobile-first

Since the rapid shift to mobile began, millions of web users across the globe have transitioned from desktop to mobile devices. With people spending four hours a day on average browsing their mobile apps, it’s clear this trend is here for the long haul.

So, when planning your websites and apps, mobile audiences must take priority, with all aspects of design optimised for mobile first, as explained in the steps above. Companies who don’t embrace and prioritise the mobile experience will very definitely be left behind.