The User Interface Design of Mobile Content

This next blog entry is inspired by usability guru Jakob Nielsen’s usability newsletter regarding a study on mobile content and user interface design. The premise of the study is that complex web content on an iPhone-sized screen scores only 48% in comparison to desktop monitor comprehension scores.  In other words readability is doubly hard to achieve on such a screen size. Considering that phones with the aforementioned screen size are the exception rather than the rule it’s not hard to see how complex web tasks present a number of user interface design challenges.

Small screens mean that users see less content at a time, so the memorability of the user interface needs to be boosted. Unlike on a desktop screen where users can simply glance all around the user interface design, users of a mobile device must spend more time scrolling. This leaves them more susceptible to diversion as navigating the user interface design usurps the consumption of content. Users are also confronted with a higher number of pages and thus need to reacquire the previous location more often. The use of breadcrumbs to illustrate the underlying structure of the user interface design is crucial in this regard.

User interface design for mobile devices is also not simply a matter of a tiny screen. Most mobile devices feature no physical keyboard making an already small screen even smaller to accommodate a virtual one! If you think of the vast numbers of websites which are online, user interface design is mostly geared to desktop screens. Although the number of dedicated mobile apps is on the rise, there is a lack of consistency when it comes to user interface design. For example, Facebook’s privacy policy contains 35 times the number of words users actually read during an average visit. Simply cramming it all into an iPhone size user interface design actually reduces comprehension scores by half! In such a case shorter and simpler text would go a long way in achieving great usability.

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