Let Them Pee: Avoiding the Sign-Up/Sign-In Mobile Antipattern

This is an excerpt from the upcoming Android Design Patterns: Interaction Design Solutions for Developers (Wiley, 2013) by Greg Nudelman

Anything that slows down customers or gets in their way after they download your app is a bad thing. That includes sign-up/sign-in forms that show up even before potential customers can figure out if the app is actually worth using.

It’s a simple UX equation

This antipattern seems to be going away more and more as companies are beginning to figure out the following simple UX equation:

Long sign-up form before you can use the app = Delete app

However, a fair number of apps still force customers to sign up, sign in, or perform some other useless action before they can use the app.

Example

The application SitOrSquat is a brilliant little piece of social engineering software that enables people to find bathrooms on the go, when they gotta go. Obviously, the basic use case implies a, shall we say, certain sense of urgency. This urgency is all but unfelt by the company that acquired the app, Procter and Gamble (P&G), as it would appear for the express purposes of marketing the Charmin brand of toilet paper. (It’s truly a match made in heaven—but I digress.)

Not content with the business of simply “Squeezing the Charmin” (that is, simple advertising), P&G executives decided for some unfathomable reason to force people to sign up for the app in multiple ways. First, as you can see in Figure 1, the app forces the customer (who is urgently looking for a place to relieve himself, let’s not forget) to use the awkward picker control to select his birthday to allegedly find out if he has been “potty trained.” This requirement would be torture on a normal day, but—I think you’ll agree—it’s excruciating when you really gotta go.

Registration Torture
Figure 1: Registration Torture: Sign Up/Sign In antipattern in SitOrSquat app.

But the fun does not stop there—if (and only if) the customer manages to use the picker to select the month and year of his birth correctly (how exactly does the app know it’s correct?), he then sees the EULA (Figure 2), which, as discussed in the previous article, End User License Agreement (EULA) Presentation (Boxes and Arrows January 2nd, 2013), is an antipattern all to itself.

EULA on a mobile device
Figure 2: Reading the EULA while wanting to pee should be an Olympic sport.

SitOrSquat’s EULA is long, complex, and written in such tiny font that reading it while waiting to go to the bathroom should be considered an Olympic sport, to be performed only once every four years. Assuming the customer gets through the EULA, P&G presents yet another sign-up screen, offering the user the option to sign in with Facebook, as shown in Figure 3.

Sharing bathroom habits
Figure 3: Finally! Sharing my bathroom habits on Facebook has never been easier!

I guess no one told the P&G execs that the Twitter message “pooping” is actually a prank. They must have legitimately thought that they could transfer some sort of social engineering information about the person’s bathroom habits to “achieve and maintain synergistic Facebook connectivity.” I would have to struggle hard to find monumental absurdities from social networking experiments that are equal to this. I can’t imagine that anyone thinks “Finally! Sharing my bathroom habits on Facebook has never been easier!”

Assuming that the user is a legitimate customer looking to use the bathroom for its intended purpose, and not a coprophiliac Facebook exhibitionist, we may hope that he will naturally dismiss the Facebook sign-in screen and come to the next jewel: the Tutorial, shown in Figure 4.

Tutorial is a sub-par Welcome experience pattern. Here it is another impediment to progress.
Figure 4: Tutorial is a sub-par Welcome experience pattern. Here it is another impediment to progress.

SitOrSquat tutorial is an extra screen that provides very little value, other than impeding the use of the app for its intended purpose. (If you need a tutorial, I recommend a much more effective contextual Watermark pattern, which I discuss in Chapter 5 of the Android Design Patterns book.)

50 Taps and 7 Screens of Antipatterns

Note that the entire app outside of registration consists of basically four screens (if you count the functionality to add bathrooms!). However, if you include all the sign-up antipattern screens (including my initial failure to prove that my potty training certificate is up to date, as referred to in Figure 1), it takes seven screens of the “preliminary” garbage before the content you are looking for finally shows up (refer to Figure 5). If you count the number of taps necessary to enter my birthday, that becomes almost 50 taps!

The Glory of 50 taps needed to get through the Sign Up/Sign In antipattern in SitOrSquat app.
Figure 5: The Glory of 50 taps needed to get through the Sign Up/Sign In antipattern in SitOrSquat app.

One of my favorite UX people, Tamara Adlin (who coauthored The Persona Lifecycle: Keeping People in Mind During Product Design with John Pruitt) wrote brilliantly: “For Heaven’s Sakes, Let Them Pee.” I believe that never before has this line been so appropriate. In the absurd pursuit of social media “exposure” coupled with endless sign-up screens, with heavy-handed “lawyering up,” P&G executives completely lost sight of the primary use case: letting their customer SitOrSquat.

Long sign-up screens detract from the key mobile use case: quick, simple information access on the go. Overly invasive sign-up/sign-in screens presented up front and without due cause will cause your customers to delete the app.

There is no reason to force anyone to register for anything

When deciding whether to force the customer to perform an action, consider this: If this were a web app, would you force the customer to do this? If you have Internet connection, you can save everything the customer does and connect it back to his device using a simple session token and a guest account. And even if you don’t (for example, while riding in a subway, using airplane mode, and so on), today’s smartphones have plenty of on-board storage you can use for later syncing with your servers when the mobile network eventually becomes available.

This means there is simply no reason to force anyone to register for anything, other than if they want to share the data from their phone with other devices. As a general rule, rather than forcing registration upon download or at the first opportunity, it is much better to allow the customer to save a piece of information locally on the phone without requiring that he log in. Wait until the customer asks for something that requires registration, such as sharing the information with another device or accessing information already saved in his account; at that point completing the registration makes perfect sense.

For example, imagine how absurd the Amazon.com shopping experience would be if the app asked you for your home address, billing address, and credit card upfront—before allowing you to see a single item for sale! Yet entering the home address (where would you like to have the items shipped?) and credit card (how would you like to pay for this?) makes perfect sense during the checkout, after the customer selects a few items and indicates she would like to complete the purchase.

Finally, remember that “Forms suck,” as brilliantly quipped by Luke Wroblewski in his book Web Form Design (Rosenfeld Media, 2008). Only ask for what you strictly need to proceed to the next step and omit extraneous information. (Effective mobile data entry controls and forms is a huge topic to which I devote chapters 10-12 of my upcoming Android Design Patterns book (Wiley March 11, 2013), now available on Amazon.com).

End User License Agreement (EULA) Presentation

This is an excerpt from the upcoming “Android Design Patterns: Interaction Design Solutions for Developers” (Wiley, 2013) by Greg Nudelman

The first thing your customers see when they download and open your app is the welcome mat you roll out for them. Unfortunately, this welcome mat commonly contains unfriendly impediments to progress and engagement: End User License Agreements (EULAs). Like the overzealous zombie cross-breed between a lawyer and a customs agent, this antipattern requires multiple forms to be filled out in triplicate, while keeping the customers from enjoying the app they have so laboriously invested time and flash memory space to download. This article exposes the culprit and suggests a friendlier welcome strategy for your mobile apps.

Antipattern: End User License Agreements (EULAs)

When customers open a mobile website, they can often engage immediately. Ironically, the same information accessed through apps frequently requires agreeing to various EULAs, often accompanied by ingenious strategies that force customers to slow down. EULA is an antipattern.

When and Where It Shows Up

EULAs are typically shown to the customer when the application is first launched and before the person can use the app. Unfortunately, when they do show up, EULAs are also frequently accompanied by various interface devices designed to slow people down. Some EULAs require people to scroll or paginate to the end of a 20-page document of incomprehensible lawyer-speak before they allow access. Others purposefully slow people down with confirmation screens that require extra taps. Truly, things in a torture department have evolved nicely since the days of Spanish Inquisition!

Example

Financial giant Chase provides a good example of a EULA. As shown in figure 1, when customers first download the Chase app, they are faced with having to accept a EULA even before they can log in.

figure1
Figure 1: EULA antipattern in Chase app.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What makes this example interesting, is that the same information is accessible on the mobile phone without needing to accept the EULA first: through the mobile web browser, as shown in Figure 2.

 

figure2
Figure 2: There is no EULA on the Chase mobile website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Avoid It

The remarkable thing is not that the EULA is required. Lawyers want to eat, too, so the EULAs are an important component of today’s modern litigious society. Dealing with a first-world bank in the “New Normal” pretty much guarantees that you’ll be faced with signing some sort of a legal agreement at some point in the relationship. The issue is not the EULA itself—it is the thoughtlessness of the timing of the EULA’s appearance.

The app has no idea if you have turned on the mobile access on or have your password set up properly. (Most people have at least a few issues with this.) Therefore, the app has no idea if the bank can serve you on this device. However, already, the bank managed to warn you that doing business on the mobile device is dangerous and foolhardy and, should you choose to be reckless enough to continue, the bank thereby has no reasonable choice but to relinquish any and all responsibility for the future of your money. This is hardly an excellent way to start a mature brand relationship.

What should happen instead? Well, the mobile website provides a clue. First, it shows what a customer can do without logging in, such as finding a local branch or an ATM. Next, the mobile site enables the customer to log in. Then the system determines the state of the EULA that’s on file. If (to paraphrase Eric Clapton in “The Tales of Brave Ulysses”) the customers’ “naked ears were tortured by the EULA’s sweetly singing” at some point in the past, great—no need to repeat the sheer awesomeness of the experience. If not, well, it’s Lawyer Time. Consequently, if customers do not have Bill Pay turned on, for example, they don’t need to sign a Bill Pay EULA at all, now do they? The point is that the first page customers get when they first launch your app is your welcome mat. Make sure yours actually says “Welcome.”

Additional Considerations

Has anyone bothered asking, “How many relationships (that end well) begin with a EULA anyway?” How would Internet feel if every website you navigated to first asked you to agree to a EULA, even before you could see what the site was about? That just does not happen. You navigate to a website and see awesome welcome content immediately. (Otherwise, you’d be out of there before you could spell E-U-L-A.) When you use a site to purchase something, you get a simple Agree and Proceed button with a nearby link to a EULA agreement (not that anyone ever bothers to read those things anyway, especially on mobile) and merely proceed on your way.

If you can surf the web happily, taking for granted the awesomeness of the smorgasbord of information on the mobile and desktop, without ever giving a second thought to the EULAs, why do you need to tolerate a welcome mat of thoughtless invasive agreements on a mobile app platform?

Additional Information

You can find 70 essential mobile and tablet design ideas and antipatterns in my new book, Android Design Patterns: Interaction Design Solutions for Developers (Wiley, 2013) now available for pre-order at http://AndroidDesignBook.com where you can also sign up for the next free monthly Android Design Question and Answer session.

Four Key Principles of Mobile User Experience Design

Prior to becoming a senior UX designer at Popular Front Interactive, I spent two years as a mobile UX researcher within the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Mobile Technologies Group – a lab tasked with both future-casting and then rapidly prototyping innovative mobile experiences.

As I transitioned from academia to industry, I discovered that while mobile UX was discussed, it wasn’t discussed from the same broad frame of reference that I was used to within the confines of a research-based institution. Although more recent mobile UX conversations I have found myself in have undoubtedly benefited from the ongoing smart phone revolution, overall I still find these conversations to be needlessly driven by tactical adoration and lacking a conscious consensus regarding the fundamental principles of the mobile-user experience.

I do not presume these following principles to be all-inclusive or ultimately authoritative; rather, it is my hope that they are received as an anecdotal summation of my findings that might then spark and contribute to the larger conversation and consensus-building process.

 

PRINCIPLE #1: There is an intimate relationship between a user and their mobile device.

While an intimate relationship between an individual and their mobile device may seem like a given, the depth of that relationship probably goes deeper than most initially realize. In fact, I argue that the relationship extends to a physical level and the exchange of bodily fluids.

Imagine that it is a hot summer day and someone asks if they may borrow your mobile device to make a call. You hand it over. What level of trust does this simple act portray? Consider those around you right now: How many of them would you loan your mobile device to without hesitation? In your social circles, is it acceptable to decline such a request? How does context influence this scenario? What if you are at work? At a bar? How about a family reunion?

Let’s assume that this person is noticeably respectful of your device and the personal data it contains while making their call. At the call’s completion, the individual immediately and graciously returns it, whereupon you notice that it has accumulated an amount of … goo (perspiration, humidity, etc.) that is typical of mobile device use on a hot, sticky summer day…but then again, it isn’t your goo.

From a gooey physical level to a level of data privacy and security, there is an intimate bond between an individual and their mobile device, the strength of which often elevates the mobile device to the status of iconic personification. I am my phone. My phone is I.

In order to meet user expectations, mobile experiences should assume a semi-guarded state of primary usership; however, we must also responsibly protect our users. As the trend of embedding ourselves into our mobile devices increases, so does the cost of our devices being compromised. Assume primary ownership, allow for secondary usership, and plan for what might happen should we lose ourselves.

In a worst-case scenario, a compromised mobile device containing a significant amount of personal data would become the networked equivalent of a voodoo doll, where actions performed via the mobile device could cause actual harm to the individual personified by the device. In cases such as this, a remote wiping of all data on the device may be a user’s only recourse. 

 

PRINCIPLE #2: Screen size implies a user’s state. The user’s state infers their commitment to what is on the screen.

Imagine that you have been looking forward to seeing a particular blockbuster movie since the day it was green lit, and now that the day of its release has finally come you are going to get the most out of the experience by going to see the movie on the largest IMAX screen in the tri-state area.

Let’s say that when you finally take your seat in the sold-out theatre, you notice the person sitting next to you has a very annoying laugh. There is nowhere else to sit in the theatre, and you’ve been dying to see this movie for more than a year. What are the chances you abandon the experience and walk out? Probably fairly slim to none.

Now let’s say that you were backpacking through Europe when the above blockbuster was released, and that you have been equally anticipating the movie’s Blu-Ray release. To celebrate the release, you and your friends are gathering at the home of the friend who has an impressive home theater featuring a 52-inch HD screen, and again you find yourself seated next to the guy with the annoying laugh. Now how likely are you to abandon the experience? Probably more so than above, but still not likely.

What if this scenario played out in a college dorm room and the movie was being viewed on a 22-inch computer monitor? What if you were sitting next to the guy with the annoying laugh? The chances that you might abandon the experience are probably increasing.

What about a mobile device’s 3.5-inch screen? Is there any way you would sit next to some random person with an annoying laugh for 90 minutes to watch that movie? Probably not.

Although there are any number of social and environmental factors that would affect the user abandonment rate in the experiences described above, it is consistently possible to estimate a user’s level of commitment to an experience based upon the size of the screen through which they are engaging it.

Since mobile devices are likely to be the smallest screens in a user’s experience, the design of mobile experiences must accommodate the user’s varying commitment and distributed attention. How an experience accommodates these conditions will change depending on experience type — game, banking application, or the like — but the underlying impetus remains the same.

 

PRINCIPLE #3: Mobile interfaces are truncated. Other interfaces are not.

A dreaded task that usually accompanies getting a new mobile device is the act of transferring your data from the old device to the new. In years past, this meant arduously re-entering all of your contacts via the device’s, most likely E.161 (12 key), keypad.

There were a few early, notable attempts to ease this burden. GSM service providers pushed device manufacturers to save all user data to the devices SIM card by default, but the card’s limited storage capacity produced a poor user experience. On the other hand, CDMA service providers began automatically transferring address books between devices as a customer service. Even early on it was widely acknowledged that although an individual wanted to use information on their mobile device, they would go to great lengths to avoid having to manually enter that information.

Palm, and later Research in Motion, sought to improve this fact of mobile user experience by introducing and then proliferating the practice of syncing. This concept paired the truncated mobile interface with a full-sized desktop interface, allowing the user to easily and reasonably efficiently enter their address book data via a familiar QUERTY keyboard. Although this feature was initially limited to smart phones, it has since been incorporated into a wide swatch of consumer-grade devices. In fact, the notion of syncing has become so ubiquitous in mobile computing that the syncing of one’s entire networked identity is a core plank of Google’s Android operating system.

Even as miniaturized QUERTY became and becomes a more standard feature for all mobile devices, the truth remains that mobile interfaces are truncated and better used for manipulating data rather than entering it. One might conclude that as mobile devices continue to incorporate increasingly impressive sensor arrays, even standard, consumer-grade devices will provide powerful data collection capabilities. Regardless, data collection is not data entry, and data entry is not likely to become a mobile-appropriate activity. 

 

PRINCIPLE #4: Design for mobile platforms — the real ones.

There is a prevailing tendency is to discuss mobile platforms in terms of device manufacturers and service providers. This is understandable. It is fun and easy to get caught up in the moment of the latest tech demo, press release, or rumor. However, in needlessly binding the dialogue to the news of the day, we create unnecessary segmentation across an already complex landscape. The overall conversation is better served by focusing on the mobile platforms that have emerged as constants over time. Those four platforms are voice, messaging, the internet, and applications.

 

Voice

Voice was the original mobile platform, but it is also the platform with the most nebulous future. Don’t get me wrong: People will always need to make an occasional phone call. However, the frequency with which we are doing so is declining. Why? Mobility is as much about efficiency as anything else, and telephony (vocal communication and vocal response interfaces) has proven more difficult to optimize compared to other methods of interactivity.

For example, let’s say that you wanted to verify that your paycheck had been deposited. Most banks offer both tele-banking and online account access. Which interface are you likely to use, and why? How about if you wanted to order a pizza? Would you rather call, be placed on hold for five minutes, and then dictate your order to a multi-tasking teenager, or would you rather just use a GUI to do it?

 

Messaging

Friedhelm Hillebrand, the architect of the messaging (SMS) specification, described the platform’s limit of 160 characters as “perfectly sufficient.” The question we must ask ourselves in considering this mobile platform is, “Perfectly sufficient for what?” Although Hillebrand can provide several reasons for how he arrived at the 160-character limit, the one that I have always found the most interesting is that his team discovered that most postcards typically contain 150 characters or fewer.

Have you received or sent any postcards recently? If you have, they were likely either brief social communications (“Having a great time. Wish you were here!”) or they were simply task-oriented such as RSVP-ing for a wedding or canceling a subscription.

Messaging trends today continue to affirm Hillebrand’s postcard comparison. The vast majority of SMS traffic consists of social interactions within small groups of individuals. The second tier of usage is comprised of simple task-based transactions such as voting, entering contests, and receiving notifications.

In both cases, SMS and postcards, content-heavy experiences are a minority occurrence as the media is not designed to accommodate such a level of engagement. Furthermore one could argue that due to the designed efficiency of the messaging platform, that a content-heavy experience would be far from appropriate. 

 

The Internet

The Internet is the most awkward of the mobile platforms in that it is the one that is the least natively mobile. Currently almost 95% of all Internet users experience the web via displays with resolutions of 1024×768 or greater. As such, 1024×768 is observed as a fairly universal standard and is what a significant portion of Internet-based experiences are designed to. Given that mobile displays typically range between resolutions of 60×120 and 480×320, it is fairly obvious that most Internet-based experiences aren’t designed with mobile users as a primary consideration.

As a means of making Internet-based experiences more accessible to mobile users, most mobile web browsers have been designed to include adaptive methodologies for displaying larger experiences on smaller screens. While these adaptive tactics, which typically employ pan and zoom-esque interactions, have undoubtedly made more of the Internet accessible to mobile user, one could hardly argue that it has resulted in a desirable user experience. In fact, if browsing the Internet from a desktop is regarded as a scanning activity, than browsing the Internet through the adaptive lens of a mobile browser might best be described as a squinting activity.

As mobile web usage has continued to emerge as a somewhat common activity, the assumption that Internet-based experiences are to be automatically adapted for mobile users has given way to the design of alternative experiences specifically for mobile users. While this trend has provided mobile users with more efficient and scannable web experiences, it also has the potential of overplaying the users’ expectations for Internet-based mobile experiences.

As Internet-based mobile experiences have become more device-centric and sophisticated, they have begun to resemble mobile applications, thus creating a scenario where users might expect the Internet-based experience to function as a mobile application would. The distinction between desktop applications and Internet-based experiences may be rapidly evaporating, but it remains germane in the mobile experience. Although there are several differences between the platforms, the primary point of contrast I will draw here is that applications are able to use device-level services such as sensors, ad-hoc networking, and optics, whereas Internet-based experiences cannot. While mobile browsers are beginning to make some of these services available to Internet-based experiences, each platform will always have affordances the other doesn’t. As such, and to manage user expectations, if an experience looks like an application and attempts to behave as an application would, then it should be an application — and vice-versa.

 

Applications

From a technical standpoint, applications represent executables that are native to a specific mobile environment, have been selectively installed, and have access to the device’s full array of available functionality. However from a UX standpoint, they represent a specialized interaction design that caters to an affluent, sophisticated, and targeted mobile user base.

As few as 24 months ago, the seemingly basic task of locating and installing an application on a mobile device required a fairly developed skill set. With the recent proliferation of “app stores,” this task has become more user friendly; however the percentage of users who are able to install an application on their mobile device nowhere near approaches that of those who know how to make a phone call or send a text message. So, regardless of recent improvements to the overall process of acquiring and installing a mobile application, the user who can perform this task would still be considered sophisticated compared to the overall segment.

All things considered, mobile applications might best be described as the boutique mobile platform. As is the case with most boutique experiences, a comparatively small audience will compensate for itself through fervor and zealotry. However, since the success of an application-based mobile experience is based almost entirely upon acceptance within that small audience, extraordinary attention must be paid to the particulars of the target audience’s needs and behaviors. What existing need is the application attempting to mobilize? What efficiencies can a focused interface bring to that workflow? How can the specific affordances of a mobile device augment and improve upon that experience in contrast to using one of the other mobile platforms?

Mobile applications are powerful tools…for a relatively small segment of individuals who want them and know how to use them.

 

Conclusion

Someone tweeting on behalf of Punchcut once wrote, “In mobile UX, don’t confuse precedence with standard.” I couldn’t agree more, but as I hope that I’ve successfully illustrated, this statement is well ahead of where the conversation should be. Both standards and precedence are both tactical perspectives. Within our context, they both represent distinct libraries of interactions and are either redefined as the landscape evolves or simply replaced as more elegant solutions are brought to market.

The variable nature of each of these categorizations only further demonstrates why it is best for the current mobile UX conversation to focus on higher-level principles rather than tactical particulars.

As mobile UX designers, we have both opportunity and choice in front of us. The opportunity is to establish the foundation principles of a stable, yet still emerging, experiential space. The choice lies between getting caught up in the excitement of the fad du jour or asking ourselves the difficult question of what foundational principles am I following, or establishing, with the work that I am currently doing.

The only unfortunate part is that the time we have to make this decision is quickly running out.

Lessons From Google Mobile

Google’s NYC office hosted a sold out last month’s meeting of the New York City Usability Professionals Association (NYC UPA), featuring a presentation by Leland Rechis, a UX designer in their mobile team. Exactly the sort of hyper-intelligent bespectacled geek one hopes to meet there, Rechis surveyed the key insights the UX group learned while building Google’s “mobile search product”:http://www.google.com/mobile.

Taken aback by the scale of the development effort, I began to wonder how many of the lessons learned were even relevant if you aren’t Google, or at least Google-sized. The basic problems of translating existing services and brands over to the mobile space concern many smaller organizations, but Rechis demonstrated that becoming a global mobile presence presents extraordinary challenges.

Basic problem solving still completely swamps any other creative concern when working on mobile sites. A refreshing blast of Spartan usability problems, mobile site design is uncluttered with your typical mamby-pamby web problems. Can a user get the information, and fast? Answer this question and you’re far ahead of everyone else.

The design process described was quite effective at powering through a lot of basic usability problems, but struck me as potentially ill suited to a younger project that might still be finding itself.

Here are four key points I took home:

Designing a good mobile web user experience requires seemingly endless device, location, and use-specific hacks.

Of course, rendering inconsistency on mobile browsers is worse than it ever was on desktop browsers. Variation in device input (keys, buttons, stick) and output (screen size) create dramatic UI problems that don’t seem to be going away. Plenty more issues can be traced to local carrier hegemony. Regional patterns of use develop based upon the network capability, handset manufacturer, and content formats most popular in any area. If anything, these differences seem to continue diverging, turning much of the design process into a maddening branching problem. Further customizations to the experience based upon the type of search result proved to be another key ingredient. As browsing a large feature set on a mobile device is so cumbersome, it is critical to intuit the user’s next action and place it accordingly: get directions here, buy those movie tickets, call this person.

A shallow learning curve is essential.

Each successful interaction, no matter how minor, invests the user in the application experience. Rechis stressed the importance of always placing low hanging fruit on the first screen to build user confidence. Further personalization efforts highlight only the features users have used or requested. This is good general advice, but critical in mobile applications where the UI standards are few, and the failure modes extraordinarily frustrating. It’s worth remembering that the vast majority of Americans don’t even know their phone has a browser.

Localization for the mobile experience is more complex than ever.

It was plainly apparent that we (some small subset of geeky Americans) have simply no idea what the rest of the world expects from their phones. Even with most device, network, and language issues solved, we can still be far from creating an application with any kind of cultural relevance. Basic local conventions complicate something as simple as a web search. Europeans expect a compact page with a few precise links, while many Asian consumers on high-bandwidth networks expect results as screenfuls of colorful content. Driving directions have to be formulated with wayfaring devices that are locally relevant. Familiarity with the technology varies drastically and direct research in all of these different cultural contexts is the only way to tackle any of these problems.

The UX techniques you know and love are compatible with AGILE development.

The mobile team used an AGILE process (but not all of Google necessarily). If you aren’t already using one yourself, trends say you’re likely to come across it soon. I found the way UX and usability techniques were integrated perfectly sensible and a useful validation of many of the concepts well loved on B&A.

An upfront “ideation sprint” was focused on detailing a primary use case. Weekly development sprints were coupled with weekly usability tests, constantly testing the features delivered or modified in the previous sprint. And in the most astonishing detail, the UX team actually gets to sign off on engineers’ work before each release. Progress! These little process details were valuable nuggets for anyone on similar teams.

So to wrap up

  • Weekly usability cycles good
  • AGILE fits all parts of the design/development process.
  • Global mobile site bad, unless you’re Google
  • Volunteering at your local UPA chapter also good