We've all seen it, lived it, experienced it, and heard about it: the half-baked app. In this article we'll discuss how defining a clear mobile considerations will prevent creating a murky user experience and alleviate existing ones.

Step 1: Understand your users

There's a great saying that's been said a million times over: "You are not your user". It may sound basic, but clearly defining key metrics about your audience can help ensure user adoption, and the success of your application. Some examples of how to further define your audience include:

- What's your users' Average Age?

- What device type(s) do they use?

- What's the gender spread of your user population?

- What occupations do your users hold?

- What's the average education level?

So you've got the metrics, now what? Interview people that fall into your target audience! Use surveys and interviews to figure out what their needs are. Determine what would bring them back again and again. Invite them to problem solve right there with you (you might be pleasantly surprised with the amazing responses you get when somebody is so removed from your project!).

Knowing these key points about your audience will help you create user personas for your app/application or mobile site. These will largely overlap user personas for your existing user channels, but think dynamically when creating these as your mobile users are "on the go".

Who are they? What are they doing when they are on your site or within your app?

  • Are they walking and getting directions?
  • Are they showing their device to a ticket scanner for check in?

A How often do they visit your site or open your app?

  • Is it every time they are in your store?
  • Is it only when they're in need of help?

Having user personas not only helps you create your mobile use cases, but it also helps with the selection of your usability testing study participants and perhaps even how you conduct your study.

Step 2: Understand your key use cases

What is your primary goal or goals with this app/application/mobile optimized site? Why do they need to perform this action "on the go"? What makes this use case worth implementing in your mobile offering? For example, a bank may break down into the following mobile primary use cases:

Use case 1: As a customer, I want to deposit checks while on the go

Use case 2: As a customer, I want to view my current account balance at any time

Use case 3: As a customer, I want to transfer funds between accounts

Use case 4: As a customer, I want to pay bills while on the go

Apps, Applications, and mobile optimized web experiences are three different beasts that should take into account your primary use cases that drive the product you ultimately release.

Apps can be described as single function programs. Think: check-in functionality (Foursquare), Photo taking applications (Instagram), or a game (Angry birds).

Applications can perform multiple functions for a user. Think about the use cases referenced above (Navy Federal/ USAA / Capital One / Bank of America/ etc.).

Mobile optimized web can offer both experiences found above (while remaining platform agnostic ). Foursquare offers both a platform specific app, as well as a html5 optimized website offering that one-task functionality. Additionally, the banking applications referenced above have mobile optimized versions of their site offering the same task rich experience.

Focus on these primary use cases and make sure that they are intuitive to find, perform, and complete.

Step 3: Understand what translates well into the mobile paradigm

Always remember that just because you can, doesn't mean you should. For example, should an application to order pizza also have the ability to see all of the news releases about their company? Probably not because you just want to order a pizza! Avoid the bloat and only bake in functionality that really complete that primary goal or augment the customer experience.

Another great example of what might not work well in the mobile world is lengthy forms. You wouldn't expect a user to do their taxes from a mobile device, would you? Perhaps a tablet – but that's where multiple mobile strategies may come in to play. If you must include lengthy forms, is there any way that you can help the user fill in some of that data? For example, if this is a banking application, presumably the user already has their name, address, and phone number on file. If this user were to apply for a loan through the mobile experience, fill in that known data for them to make it as easy as possible. Similarly, if you're working on a use case that requires multiple steps, be sure to tell the user where they are in the process. Many users who perceive a process to be lengthy will simply give up, even if they're on step 2 of 3; make sure your designs clearly convey that status.

Special considerations must be made when designing for mobile; the conditions that users access these products are completely different, and often are full of distraction. Users have consistently broken down their most frequent use cases into three major categories:

- Location reasons: What's near me?

- Entertainment reasons: I'm bored!

- Task oriented: I need to do something (check e-mail, take a picture, book a hotel, check the status of my flight, etc.)

If you're designing for a use case that doesn't fall into one of those categories, that doesn't necessarily mean you've done something wrong, but it may mean that you should take special consideration in validating it's design and purpose. There is a great analytical concept of "The Five Whys" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/5_Whys_). For example, let's say you've got a primary use case that users want to be able to manage their entire company budget from their mobile device. In order to get to the heart of the use case, ask why and they might say "we want to show them the budget while they're on the go". You ask, "but why", and they reply "they need to see where the current budget stands". You ask, "Why is that?" and they reply "They really need to see an up to date view of current spending". This continues on until you find that really they just need a dashboard for an at a glance view of Money spent by category compared to the overall budget. No need to edit, no need to manage.

Step 4: Understand what they're viewing your site on

If you're not releasing a native app or application, do some market research to determine what devices you plan on supporting. Screen sizes vary widely in the Android space, and that can lead to some undesirable interactions. Responsive designs can handle the majority of these minor tweaks, but leverage a tool like spoon.net to emulate each and every mobile browser you intend on supporting.

Knowing what devices you're targeting will also help surprise and delight the customer by presenting fields in the native styling (ie: the rolling date selector in iOS). Leveraging these native interactions will help a user proceed without having to overcome an additional hurdle of learning a new means for input.

In an upcoming blog article I'll be discussing mobile usability testing, and how you can incorporate the above into building out the ultimate test plan.