Principles for Mobile Design

Cell phone users are incredibly goal-oriented. Users expect to find what they need, immediately and on their own terms. Today we’ll discuss what design principles to adapt to add a layer of structure to the design tactics you’ve learned to practice along the way to help you make better design decisions.

SEPARATE DATA FROM OPINION
When the rest of a team on a project mixes up design with art, knowing art to be a subjective craft, and assumes the design team bases their work on opinions or instincts, it becomes a task to work on user experience as a team. Every UX designer acknowledges that their work is evidence-based. However, too many buy into pop culture data points without giving it enough thought. It's important to separate opinion from fact based on data, research, heuristics, best practices and patterns. Every good designer is trained to separate the two. So before working on a project discuss where to draw the line between opinion and data. But try and remain open to strange correlations and opportunities.

A NORMAL USER IS NONEXISTENT
Any design element you take will not work optimally for every single user. So primarily build keeping in mind the bulk of your users and build the best possible case for them and provide alternatives for the rest. This is one of our biggest issues as evidence-based people, as there are always outliers. This is why you never make decisions based on just one client, one user, or one piece of feedback. Rather seek to understand the behaviors, needs, and preferences of the entire user base. Take for instance how Google Maps provides both lists of nearby restaurants and displays them on the map too.

PLAY TO YOUR STRENGTHS.
Your product, your organization, and your platform will do things differently from the rest. Seek out your entire team's strengths and use those. Don’t chase the competition blindly. You haven't seen their big picture. They are probably playing to their strengths and a different market.

DON’T LIMIT YOURSELF TO SOLVING FOR TECHNOLOGY ALONE.
Build for the way your actual users will work with your app or Web site, build for the ways people actually work. We hear too often about how mobile phones are crippled by their slow processors, small screens, and bad networks. This misses the point of mobile devices, aside from this not being entirely true. They are connected, portable, sensorized tools which exceed the power of personal computers in many ways. Offer products in unique ways by using the location systems, camera, the multitude of services, SMS capabilities and mobility to solve your issues.

YOU CAN’T CHANGE YOUR USER’S BEHAVIOR.
Your biggest constraint, the hardest thing by far to change is your users, for any system you design. So don’t try to change them, embrace this instead. To get users to behave the way the system wants them to, FAQs or training sometimes attempts to change users’ behaviors. Rather than changing users to make them want a new product, disruptive, successful industries return to what users want. Try and avoid error conditions caused by erroneous user input. Don't ever make people select or type data that any computer already knows. Don't gripe at users for their not being computers. Parse, constrain, or just live with the data.

DON'T BUILD WHAT YOU CAN LINK OR BORROW TO.
Don't build what already exists. Consider the cost savings alone. But more so, it's essential to delivering a good user experience. Often users prefer to stick to what they're comfortable using, as far as possible. So, allow for linking to their native apps. This way you have no maintenance, not much to build, no complaints, and increased visitors.

DESIGN SYSTEMS TO BE RESILIENT.
Users will do things you do not expect. Connections, components, and data will fail you. Stop designing thinking everything else is an error or a low-risk scenario. Design your experiences to accept bad data, weird behaviors, and the unexpected with charm and grace. Assume the unknown.

DESIGN DELIBERATELY.
People look at and touch the center, as long as you keep this in mind, you should be fine. Put the secondary items along the top and bottom edges after you put the key items at the center of the page, and then the tertiary items behind menus. After, stick to the core of your design. Stick to it all after you create a hierarchy of tasks. Squeezing something in rarely works.

GET THE BASICS RIGHT FIRST.
Start by meeting the expectations of customers. Do it in a way that is not confusing or provides an obvious alternative, when exceeding them. Meaning, make use of the OS standards. Users should be delighted by how you met their needs rather than having to guess how to use a user interface. As far as possible, don’t push them against the grain. Think about what your customers are actually accustomed to on their devices? Understand your users, your systems, and how systems work. The cool stuff is usually simple solutions to layered problems.

DON’T ANGER ANYONE IN YOUR ATTEMPTS TO DELIGHT THE FEW.
To design for specific groups of people is still good practice. Study how different people work with your product and build personas based off research. However, think about the other side for every decision you make keeping another segment in mind. This issue exists at each level. Don’t frustrate, anger, or cause confusion to anyone else. Your user interface, product, the wording of the text, interactions, and business practices must work for all users, not just for one persona.

REMOVE THE CLUTTER.
Allocate user attention wisely, its a precious resource. You overload your user with too much information by cluttering your interface. Each added image, button, and line of text make the screen more complicated. Keep it at a single primary action per screen. One action of real value to the user should be what every screen you design for, supports. This makes it easier to use, easier to learn and easier to build on when necessary or add to. A hundred clear screens are preferred to a single cluttered one.

THERE SHOULDN'T BE TOO MUCH NEED FOR TYPING.
Typing on a cell phone is an error-prone and slow process. Hence it's best to try to minimize the amount of typing needed to use any mobile app. By removing any unnecessary fields, keep forms as short and straightforward as possible. So users only have to enter the least amount of information necessary, use personalized data and auto-complete where appropriate. Respect user-entered data. To preserve user-entered data, do whatever it takes from making sure auto-complete can bring back lost input to saving data as the user types, along with being prepared for a loss of connectivity and not clearing forms when errors occur. Encourage recovery when losing user-entered data is unavoidable. When you have auto-suggest fields for example, with recent typing first, prioritize the user’s typing so the user, by typing just a few characters, can efficiently recover the data.

You must have principles of mobile design of your own, but they have to be principles you can really internalize, use every day to improve and guide your work and believe in.

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