Breaking Down #Mobile Principles – Taps

This is the third post in a series breaking down mobile principles that Mashable’s Grace Smith’s laid out in a recent article. If you haven’t caught the previous two, they can be found here and here.

Today we will look at the tap and how it has changed UX forever.

A users experience on a site is a recent thing. The concepts were first brought to the tech community in the mid 1990’s by an architect named Donald Norman that started identifying metrics for usability of a site.

As unusual as it sounds, we were able to quantify the quality of the time we spent on a website. 

While Norman first started documenting UX ideas 20 years ago, it took much longer for it to make it’s way mainstream. Companies who never would put those two letters together are now realizing it is an actual employment need. A Google search for “UX designer job” yields 14.5 million results.

How does this relate to mobile?

Much like the canvas, web designers have more restrictions on mobile devices than with the desktop and must incorporate better navigation. With less real estate, most websites just increase the number of pages or taps needed to reach a desired goal.

I work in the auto industry, whereas the end goal of a website is to show users cars they can purchase and connect them with the dealership quickly. When I first started at my current company, it took at least five or six taps and a healthy amount of scrolling just to see cars. Depending on where you are located and your network connection, that can mean someone could be waiting 30 seconds to a minute before they can start shopping. That is dependent on them knowing where to go, which is never a given.

Every metric we see these days says that is too long.

The reasons for this site design were simply put to me. I will also add that this company won several industry awards for their mobile platform. People still found cars. The difference is users are more educated, and as more and more of our traffic is headed mobile we had to tear down that clunky structure and allow customers to get to what they want sooner.

One thing I would like to mention is the idea of an action having real meaning. How many taps, swipes and scrolls are you requiring your users to take while completing an activity?

Is your page so long it will take double-digit swipes to navigate to the bottom? While every experience is different, chances are the bottom of the page will never be seen which renders the content down there obsolete.

Will your user understand the need to hit so many different pages along the path? I will spend three or four screens setting up my account the first time, but when I open an app or site I want to see something in just a few taps. If I want to purchase, a few more will do.

I love the study that Smith quotes in the article:

The CEO of Hotel Tonight illustrated that booking a hotel on his app requires only three taps and a swipe, totaling about eight seconds. He compared it to Priceline’s mobile process (52 taps, 102 seconds) and Hotels.com’s app (40 taps, 109 seconds).

What a huge difference, one that I am sure will bring them more users once word spreads. 

Remember that while the visual appeal to an app or mobile site wins the awards, there are a lot of pretty apps that I downloaded once and then promptly deleted. We must think harder about how the user is using our pretty designs and put those concepts first or all the people performing those actions will just hit the back button.

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