Mobile UX: How Do We Deliver Great Experiences? This was the question posed at the most recent Mobile Monday Manchester event, and one which generated some fascinating discussion amongst both our panellists and the audience.
User Experience: is your app, or your website, on mobile or otherwise, a pleasure to use? Does it flow, is it intuitive, attractive? Is it something that people will talk to their friends about and tweet about? Making sure that the answer to these questions is a resounding yes, according to the panel, is at the very heart of delivering great mobile experiences.
The panel for this event came from various different industries but all brought with them knowledge of UX and how to make sure you provide the best experience for customers. We had:
– John Rowlands, Mobile Apps Manager, Shop Direct as our panel chair.
– Murat Mutlu, Co-Founder, Marvel App
– Matt Harney, Creative Producer, Apadmi
– Chris Shaw, Business Intelligence Developer, Reality Mine
– Richard Esknis, Senior Lecturer, Manchester Metropolitan University
The evening started with John Rowlands discussing Shop Direct’s experience with UX: starting from no usability testing in 2009 to opening their own state of the art UX lab in 2014. In the five years that it took them to get to where they are now, their understanding of usability testing to ensure good UX went through three distinct stages: having no understanding of usability; beginning to understand and embrace it and then making it a core part of how their business operates.
Shop Direct’s usability lab, John said, was all about getting to know its customers. Designed specifically to be a homelike environment, the participants are provided with various different devices that they’re tasked with using to purchase certain Shop Direct products. Close attention is paid to what device they use and where they use it. Do they use a tablet or a laptop? Do they use them at a desk or do they sit on a sofa? All of these decisions, observed by designers in the next room, give subtle clues about how things should be designed.
Utilising usability testing to create the best possible UX still has to be justified on a business level however and, through A/B testing, John argued that they can do exactly this. Through showing the number of items in the basket icon for example, users were stimulated to click onto the basket more often, a change that generated £1.4 million in extra sales. Similarly, adding persuasive messaging such as “10 sold in the last hour, going fast” was found to add a sense of urgency to the experience and generated £5.1 million.
Of course, admitted John, not everyone can have their own state of the art in house, usability lab, but that shouldn’t stop people from doing usability testing to insure that they have the best UX possible. “If you can’t build your own lab”, he said, “just get yourself to a local coffee shop and get people to test your software!”
Next up was Murat Mutlu, Co-Founder of the app prototyping software Marvel who argued that when creating an app, everything should be built on the foundation that it is functional, usable and reliable. But this in itself, he argued, isn’t enough. As well as being usable it also has to be a pleasure to use, it has to make the users happy.
Whereas John talked about the monetary benefit of usability testing and good UX, Murat focused on the personal benefit, both for users and for the brand. It’s important, he argued, to make people “jump on twitter and say that they’re in love with your product” and one good way to do this is through putting time, effort and creativity into the small things, as well as the large. The app ‘City Mapper’ for example writes its release notes in fun, subjective, first person and they often go viral. “This,” argues Murat “would go over the head of so many companies but it’s another thing that makes someone want to jump into the app store and spend time with your product.”
Marvel themselves put similar effort into seemingly small things which, none the less, enhance the user experience. When you upgrade your Marvel account for example interactive confetti appears on your screen, and if you reach a 404 page you see gifs of different ‘fails’; “something that has been blogged about “more times than we can count”. UX, then, is more than just about making your product usable but making it something that people genuinely want to use.
Matt Harney, Creative Producer at Apadmi, continued with this theme saying that “it’s imperative that user experience is a pleasure.” And, like Murat, saying that, especially when it comes to app development, user experience builds upon both utility and usability.
It’s important first of all, Matt argued, to make sure that the app you’re wanting to develop has utility- is it useful? There may be loads of great ideas but is it something that people would actually want to use. A question often asked at Apadmi is do you really need an app for that?’ It’s important not to just build an app for the sake of having an app; there has to be a reason behind it, a consumer need that will make it successful and popular. If the app has utility then you go onto usability- is it easy to use, and then onto user experience, making it not just easy to use but enjoyable.
The process of developing an exceptional UX, Matt argues, can often get frustrating; assumptions about what users will do when they get their hands on the app don’t always work out. But, he emphasised, that is why usability testing is so important: designing good UX comes from the input of the users, not just from those with the initial vision for the app.
The user experience, stressed Matt, shapes the user’s entire view of the app. But more than that, it shapes their whole brand experience. People are very likely to associate the app with the brand; if they like the app, they like the brand and similarly if they don’t like the app they’ll react negatively towards its brand.
This theme was continued by Chris Shaw of Reality Mine who talked about the real world context surrounding user experience. Reality Mine, a market research company, gathers an extraordinary amount of data from a user’s phone, on an opt-in basis (“we’re not the NSA” he said), which can then be used to judge when, where and how users interact with certain mobile products.
The context in which the user has their experience is key, argued Chris. When we talk about UX its “not just what’s happening on the screen” but about how it fits into their day to day lives; about “the social and environmental context of them using that app.” It’s important, then, not to just focus on building a functional app but to keep the user, and their life, at the forefront. Think about what else they’re going to be doing whilst using your app. What’s the lighting going to be like? What’s their connection signal? Are they going to be inside or outside? What time of day? Who are they with? Good design, design that takes the user’s environmental context and puts it front and centre, produces far and away the best UX.
An example of bad contextual UX that he gave was that of the Instagram App. Chris, who has a young child, was on his phone, holding his son who had just gone to sleep. He was scrolling through Instagram when the app decided to auto play a video of the Rock (“yes I follow the Rock on Instagram, and what?”) which woke up the sleeping infant!
After the preceding discussion on how to create the best user experience, Richard Eskins, Senior Lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University, spoke on the importance of encouraging young people to become part of the mobile industry. Fostering young mobile and digital talent, he said, is something that local universities are incredibly passionate about. Universities such as MMU, Manchester and Salford all have talented students ready to step into the world of work. It’s vitally important for the sort of companies that were present at MoMo to help foster this young talent both by coming into universities and talking to students and employing talented graduates.
This, Richard said, is how people who are intelligent, capable and passion about things like mobile and the sort of great UX that Matt, Murat and Chris talked about, get their start in the industry: through the sort of companies that are passionate about both what they do and fostering new talent.
Mobile UX: How Do We Deliver Great Experiences? This was the question of the evening and one which our speakers undoubtedly answered. You deliver great experiences through thorough usability testing; listening to your customers; focusing on the small things and the big things; making your product not just usable but a pleasure to use; and through understanding the context surrounding your users. Mobile Monday was, once again, a fantastic knowledge sharing event that bought together some of the North West’s best and brightest; we can’t wait for the next one.