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Key to Mobile Website Development: Know Your Users

By: Monique Muldrow

What should businesses consider as they plan to create a great mobile website?  What are key elements in developing a mobile-friendly site?  What differentiates a mobile site from a “standard” website?

At Breakthrough Technologies we often field questions like this, so we asked our talented – and busy Director of User Experience Litha Ramirez to share a few thoughts on the topic.

In a nutshell, what major piece of advice would you offer businesses planning their mobile-friendly websites?

Litha: Understand the needs and behaviors of your users, then build specifically to meet those needs and behaviors.

So what do mobile users need that a business should to know?

Litha: Most mobile users don’t want to be tethered to a desk.  That’s why they live on their phones and tablets.  They’re task jugglers, often performing several tasks at once on their devices.  So they’re not always able to give 100 percent of their attention for long periods of time to any activity on their mobile phone or device.

How does this affect the strategy for a mobile site build?

Litha: It’s extremely important to understand that mobile users are always on the go and that they experience a lot of disruptions.  Everyone is extremely time sensitive, and mobile users are even more so.  So you really need to make sure that what you’re providing them is a value.

Because of this time sensitivity, you want to get users into the activity that means the most to them right away.  So you need to avoid having splash screens and other types of screens that really distract and make it difficult for users to get to their goal quickly.

Also, because users start and stop their mobile activities a lot, you need to make sure to “remember” where they left off, so that the instant they re-launch the app they’re right back where they were.  For instance, if I had been watching a video when I closed the app, I’d want to be able to return an hour later and pick up right where I left off – not need to navigate back to that video and restart from the beginning.

Is that complicated functionality to create?

Litha: Actually, that’s fairly routine and one of Apple’s recommendations for building apps.  And again, it’s really founded on the behaviors of most mobile users.  As I said, often the activity that a user is performing on an iPad or phone is very task oriented, very specific.  And that’s what an app is great at doing – providing a very solid environment without distractions for users to perform that goal.

Is there much difference between a mobile website and a “regular” site?

Litha: Yes, quite a difference.  First, with a mobile app, because users have to actively go out and find it, then download it, then wait for it to download, there’s a lot less tolerance for anything that doesn’t address the user’s immediate goals. 

Chances are that if the app doesn’t work the first time, the user isn’t going to come back to it again unless your business has incorporated a major marketing campaign.

Second, there’s not a lot of “real estate” on mobile screens, so you really have to be careful about what information you present.  That’s great for users because businesses have to be really thoughtful about what they put on the actual device and the application. 

On top of that, for a touch screen, 44-by-22 pixels is the dimension recommended for iconography, even links and things like that.  That’s based on the size of your finger and how much of it leaves an impression when you touch the screen.  So this, too, pushes a business to really consider incorporating only the most critical functions at the right point in time in the actual tool. 

Again, it all goes back to understanding your users and their goals in order to develop a mobile app that will meet their needs quickly and smartly.

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