The Must-Haves for Mobile Usability
Desktop Testing, Mobile Usability

The Must-Haves for Mobile Usability

People are attached to their phones — anywhere you look and everywhere you go. Our mobile devices spur attitudinal and behavioral patterns that are unique to this form of technology. This is why mobile usability is a big deal and why testing for it comes with a unique set of best practices.

You’ll notice it on a crowded subway, in a grocery store aisle, at a ballgame. You’ll see it on a mountaintop or while strolling through a quiet downtown.

People are attached to their phones — anywhere you look and everywhere you go. Our mobile devices spur attitudinal and behavioral patterns that are unique to this form of technology. This is why mobile usability is a big deal and why testing for it comes with a unique set of best practices.

Differences between mobile testing and desktop testing

Mobile testing entails working with various devices, operating systems, and screen sizes and requires compatibility testing to ensure apps function across different smartphones and tablets.  Mobile apps also have to be optimized for touch-based interactions, and testers have to find ways to simulate variables like network conditions, weather conditions, and battery usage, all of which are relevant given the portable nature of our phones. In contrast, desktop testing deals with a more stable environment where the primary variations include fewer operating systems and hardware configurations. Desktop applications typically interact via keyboard and mouse, and performance testing focuses less on battery usage and more on processing power and memory under heavy loads.

How mobile usability testing should be approached 

In order to create an effective mobile experience, there are a few rules of thumb I encourage UX teams to keep in mind: know your user, understand context, optimize content, and make it snappy. Let’s dig into each of those.

1. Know your users

Get this straight: knowing your users means diving deep into who they are — age, interests, tech savviness, and all the quirks in between. It’s not about guessing games but about crafting an experience finely tuned to their expectations and limitations. Without this insight, you're basically shooting arrows in the dark.

Take an app tailored for tech newbies, possibly older adults not glued to their screens 24/7. This audience will appreciate—and need—larger fonts, clear and visible icons, and a user interface that doesn't require a manual to navigate. Forget fancy jargon or complex workflows; keep it simple, straightforward, and accessible.

2. Understand (and test for) the context

Context is king in mobile usability. Where, how, and under what circumstances your app is used dramatically influences user satisfaction. It's about acknowledging that the surroundings—be it a crowded train or a quiet bedroom—play into the design needs and functional demands of your app.

Imagine a user relying on a transit app during peak hours in a bustling city. They’re relying on their app to perform flawlessly so that they can get from point A to point B without any additional hassle. This means large buttons for those bumpy rides and features that are accessible even when the user has only one hand free while clinging to a subway pole. Ensure your app remains functional with poor Wi-Fi connectivity because underground subway signals aren’t known for their reliability. 

3. Optimize content placement 

Your app should not require users to be contortionists. Ergonomic design dictates where you place interactive elements on the screen—factors like thumb reach and grip style are huge. Users shouldn’t have to stretch their fingers to the limits of human flexibility to navigate an app.

As an example - for a shopping app, the “Add to Cart” button should be where it’s easiest to tap, which is right under the user’s thumb, bottom screen, center, easily accessible. 

4. Make it snappy

Speed and clarity are requirements on mobile. Mobile users are an impatient breed, and if an app drags its feet, they’ll abandon it for a faster option. Responsiveness, ease of access, and quick loading times are critical to keeping users engaged and happy. 

Just think about the way social media apps function—they should load feeds instantaneously, refresh new content in the blink of an eye, and be able to handle image uploads without a hitch. This is what users have come to anticipate, and this is what researchers try to rest for via Time on Task scenarios. need to design around and test for. 


What research methodologies are most effective for mobile testing?

There are a few ways to come at mobile user research. Certain variables can be recreated in a lab setting, but field studies—which is when you study users in their natural context in order to collect quantitative insights into their behavior—is one of the most powerful research methods in mobile usability. This type of research monitors user behaviors as they go about their typical day while interacting with the app that’s being tested, and it can be done remotely. This gives researchers valuable insight into how the app is actually experienced within a number of busy, bustling contexts—and how easy it is for users to use it. 

As valuable as remote research can be, it shouldn’t be the only method researchers use when testing for mobile usability. In-person interviews or usability testing can add additional context and allow researchers to watch users in a controlled environment and get their feedback in real-time as they interact with an app. Surveys and questionnaires can also be effective ways to gather feedback on specific features or goals, and A/B testing is useful for comparing versions of an app and finding which one performs better in terms of user engagement. 

Designing and testing for mobile usability is a process that requires a fundamental understanding of what mobile devices mean to users on a daily basis across a variety of contexts. It entails taking the time to understand users through a mixture of research methodologies and iterating on design elements based on user feedback and real-world testing. The goal should be to foster a user-centered design that prioritizes the needs and limitations of users, enabling the creation of mobile experiences that are not only efficient but also able to be seamlessly integrated into the hustling, bustling, ever-changing contexts users find themselves in on a daily basis.

If you’re interested in learning more about how usability testing for mobile and desktop users can improve your business, reach out to us today by filling out the contact form on our site. We’d love to get a conversation started.