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Understanding user experience: Common mobile UX mistakes brands make

In 2012, what are the most common mistakes companies are making in relation to UX? As part of The Drum's UX Guide, published on 26 October, we spoke to a collection of the UK's leading user experience practitioners and consultants, asking them to give their take on the latest issues and trends within the UX sector.

User experience is rapidly becoming more of a key consideration for brands as they seek to provide enjoyable platforms for consumers to engage with. But what mistakes are brands making when it comes to UX?

Candy Diemer, design team lead, Technophobia: If digital agencies declare themselves to be inherently user-centric they need to do more than work off a set of personas and user journeys. More time needs to be spent having actual meaningful conversations with customers. A light touch approach to user research only means more guessing work in the design process. User research takes time with real people and the more we know, the more we can capitalise on in the design process.

Greg Meek, head of design & development, Stickyeyes: Many companies don’t fully understand what UX is. They believe it’s something inherent in UI design (or any kind of design) but true UX is a methodology that should be central to everything a company does, from the brand values to the marketing to the website. Unfortunately, business pressures frequently get in the way of UX values - limits on budget and time mean UX only gets a fleeting consideration towards the end of any design process, if at all. Undertaking UX principles early on allows companies to spend time on getting the experience right, when there is less at stake. Companies often leave it too late and end up retrofitting their product or website once UX problems have come to light. Ideally companies should be testing their product with real users early on, allowing for an iterative design process.

François Roshdy, lead consultant, Border Crossing Media: Companies are still not leveraging ‘free’ opportunities to capture valuable customer data and feedback or, alternatively, are collecting and reporting on as much data as possible as opposed to identifying and focusing on the data that really matters to their business. Another common mistake is that companies are still thinking about labelling and content from an organisational rather than an end-user perspective.

Are classic UX mistakes being repeated all over again in the mobile sites and apps being produced for smartphones and tablet PCs?

Peter Ballard, co-founder, Foolproof: Sadly, yes. It is like the late 90s all over again, where the rush to have a website was driven by the fear of being left behind by competitors, rather than a considered thought process of what that site should do, and how it would meet the needs of the customer. Today, the same is happening in mobile. Too often we’ve had clients demand a mobile app without knowing what it should do, whether an app is right or not, and what it will do for their business. The principles of UX remain the same, and should be applied. What customer need are we meeting within mobile, how do we meet that need, and what is the user journey and experience offered by the interface.

Greg Meek, head of design & development, Stickyeyes: There is still a lot of debate about the best route to take with mobile. We develop many websites using the ‘responsive web design’ technique, which means delivering a single website that responds to all devices, whether mobile, tablet, desktop or TV. The benefits are that it’s cheaper to build and maintain than multiple sites and it delivers a consistent content experience, while allowing us to design a different functional experience. That’s not to say that RWD is the best solution for every project.

Travis McBride, senior UX consultant, Pancentric: Some classic mistakes are being repeated but it’s a much better situation than the early days of the internet. Now the major platforms are at least trying to enforce consistent standards in regards to visual design, navigation and functionality, and users themselves demand better quality by punishing poor apps with bad reviews and low ratings. It’s like Darwinism for the internet – only the best will survive.

Candy Diemer, design team lead, Technophobia: Designing for mobile requires user experience designers and developers to work more closely together than ever before. This is where design heavily relies on the execution of the code to deliver the perfection the end users expect. The mobile user is ruthless and unforgiving. The slightest delay in an animation, a bug or an extra step in a series of tasks can make or break the app and users expect everything in an app to be completely centred around them and their immediate needs. It is paramount that designers and developers work together to ensure that the experience is executed in seamless perfection. Less is more, the devil is in the details!

Hayden Evans, creative director, Rippleffect: Smartphones and tablets are still relatively new technologies, but despite this, the majority of organisations seem to be identifying the key considerations and getting things right. Aside from the obvious process of providing simplified experiences for smaller browsers, mobile in particular has presented the new concept of providing an immediate experience based on location. Applications and mobile sites are being developed for physical situations such as locating a place or service, identifying objects or sounds and enhancing a user’s enjoyment of an event.

This has resulted in the need to develop dynamic user experiences based on serving valuable content to the user rather than the traditional approach of providing an information architecture for a user to locate content. As mobile continues to grow so the goalposts for user experience design will continue to shift.

Emma Kirk, strategic director, User Vision: A good mobile UX needs to consider the context of use, much more so than a desktop experience. Companies need to consider where are users accessing the service, how they are accessing it and what is going on around them as they do. The answers to these questions will drive many of the aspects of the design. Mobile sites and apps can also make use of many features and technologies that are not necessarily available to a desktop user (eg. geo-location, direct access to call functionality) that may be able to be used to improve the UX. Any design needs to take into consideration that certain devices won’t identify as mobile devices and not show the mobile site (eg. iPad) even though the mobile site would be better suited to a touchscreen device. Smaller tablets such as Nexus and Galaxy Tab could present issues.

For further insights, download a pdf of The Drum's UX Guide below.

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