21 Expert Opinions On The Future Of Mobile Usability
But what does the UX community have to say about the future of this constantly evolving field?
Though we don’t advocate “best practice” advice, we do love opinions, so we asked a panel of 21 UX experts for their take on what 2016 has in store for mobile usability trends. We uncovered opinions on a range of issues from 3D Touch to mobile usability measurement and mobile ads.
What do you think? Join the debate on twitter via #mobileUX16, or leave a comment below!
More Human Emotion Within Mobile Information
Design Researcher and Data Scientist. Keynote Speaker and Founder of Change Sciences
In 2016, the mobile experience will start to consider emotional context. We’ll see more ways of understanding emotion–from reading our facial expressions (Affectiva, Emotient), to deciphering our speech (Beyond Verbal) and the images we post (Pulsar). There’s even experimentation with emoji analytics (Emogi).
This is the year that emotional design will start getting as much consideration as behavioural design. My hope is that we’ll see this new focus on emotions go beyond simply making marketing more effective – which is where the technology is focused now – to helping us understand ourselves and the impact of our decisions better.
Mobile Will Get Content That Fits, Not Desktop Hand-Me-Downs
Mobile content priorities are different from those on desktop, and simply scaling websites down to mobile size doesn’t always work.
We’ll see more important content prioritised on mobile devices–location, events, emergency information, phone numbers, time-sensitive and other information that’s needed on-the-go. Designers will be relying more on analytics to determine priorities on different devices. We’ll be seeing high-priority content at the top of our screens, with primary information differentiated by size, color and contrast from the supporting details.
Mobile Will Get Leaner, Meaner and Quicker
Owner & Lead Consultant, Digital Juggler
The impact of slow page speed on user experience, site performance and conversion is now well-established. Google’s move to factor page-load time into the mobile algorithm has crystallised focus in this area.
This will continue to drive a fanatical obsession with page performance—pages will be stripped down to their elements, fine-tuned and streamlined because, on mobile, every byte and millisecond really does count.
We’re starting to see better use of adaptive design thinking. There’s also an understanding that mobile user journeys can differ from those on desktops and that simplified experiences can often satisfy mobile browsing/shopping needs. For example, a product details page that loads minimal data so “add to basket” can be displayed up front, while additional data loads in the background to help people looking for deeper browsing experiences.
The focus will be on going back to basics and using progressive enhancement to let users access richer data/features (if required) but not forcing them to wait until everything has loaded before they can complete simple actions.
The Year Of Mobile Makeovers
UX & Content Strategist at InVision | UX Blogger at User Experience Rocks
In 2016 we’ll see reinvented, more clearly defined navigational structures for the new generation of older smartphone users, who benefit from a laser-focus on accessibility (which should have been a focus all along, but hasn’t been).
We’ll also see a significant amount of socialising, and the cementing of new gestures and animations in our mobile design arsenals. Companies will also begin focusing on user research as a means of evaluating how customers are accessing brands on mobile (responsive vs. native), and adjust their investment strategies as a result.
2016 will be a great year to be a UX researcher.
Big Changes To Small Interactions
In 2016 I think two main areas will dominate mobile usability.
Firstly, an increase in and improvement of micro-interactions. The aim will be to quickly communicate a status or some feedback – actually visualising the result of an action – or to help the user manipulate something on-screen. Of course, this is nothing new, but with the huge surge in mobile access to the net and the standard of Google’s developers, I think this will dominate 2016.
Secondly, more from a solely design perspective, I think card layouts are going to dominate in 2016. People don’t read, they scan. Cards are just perfect for presenting information in bite-sized chunks. You can easily navigate and swipe to the next one, or drill down into more depth of content.
Sneaky (And Annoying) Full-Screen Mobile Ads Will Get Found Out
My main hope is that publishers will be more selective with mobile ad formats.
So many well-respected publishers still carry full-screen interstitial ads. This could even be for sponsored content on another publisher’s website. The UX for these interstitials is poor–I’m probably around the median point for individual usage of publishing websites on mobile, and yet I often find myself momentarily confused, not having spotted the cross in the corner (further inset than the cross to exit page).
Surely with the ad blocker furore of 2015, the time is up for these ads.
We’ll Get A Better Feel For 3D Touch and Material Design
From a UX standpoint, I think it will be really interesting to see how microinteractions evolve–especially in light of Apple’s 3D Touch.
This new dimension of touch might affect how on-screen animations respond, since depth has previously never been a factor. Before, I would touch something in a certain context and see one animation. Now, how will that same animation respond to a light or a deep touch?
From a UI standpoint, it’s interesting to see material design continue to spread in adoption. You don’t necessarily see a lot of material design on websites (outside of Google’s own sites), but it’s huge in the world of mobile apps. I don’t think that will change since the visual language is basically a more visually mature flat design, and the paper-like layering feels natural on touch devices.
The Full Picture, Beyond Just Screen Size, Will Emerge
Experience Design Director (UX) at R/GA
The biggest trend I see in 2016 is that our industry is finally realising mobile is not about screen size.
It’s also about the user’s mindset, the technologies and sensors available to enhance their experience, the context of use (and the way it affects metrics such as navigation time and engagement), new hardware (smart watches, smart accessories, smart clothes), ergonomy and usability.
If you don’t look at all these aspects holistically, you might get stuck in a very limited set of design patterns and functionality possibilities. 2016 is the year when mobile will expand way beyond smart phones – if we allow it to.
Users (And Their Experiences) Will Finally Be Crowned King
Senior UX/UI consultant at Pfizer
There’ll be a focus on UX and CX (customer experience) across devices and platforms:
- UX won’t only be a tool for achieving business goals, but will also drive business decisions.
- UX will be seen as a key element of the big picture (the entire customer experience), affecting even aspects of organisations that aren’t traditionally to do with design.
- “Mobile-first” will change to “user-first” (consistently great user experiences will be important during the entire user journey, across devices and platforms).
Data and people-based design:
- Organisations will be spending much more time and resources finding out what their customers really need and how they use their products, rather than just following design or technology trends.
- Data, evidence and behaviour-driven decisions will create tailored and context-aware individual experiences in real time.
- Voice and gestures will gain greater influence.
Mobile Growth Thanks To Developing Countries
Growth Marketer at ConversionXL
Mobile traffic will continue to increase, time spent on mobile will continue to grow, and due to the cheaper prices and proliferation of smart phones, much of this growth will come from developing countries.
Hopefully, companies will begin adopting a mobile-first approach in 2016, but I’d also not be surprised to see more location-based targeting and personalisation.
Finally, we’re seeing emerging methods of retailing – including mobile pay options and multi-channel retail options (like buying on Facebook, Twitter etc.) – make mobile usability a bit more holistic than simply designing a responsive site.
Copywriter, Digital Telepathy
There’ll be some major hardware changes, some of which are already in the works.
Apple has announced a new port for earbuds, or the lack of one–who knows what Apple will end up releasing. Some of it could be rumors but these usually end up being true in some fashion.
There’ll also be varied structural designs that are more pocket-friendly and perhaps features that make using your phone before bed safer— lighting/screen updates.
Better Communication Between Devices
UX Designer & Digital Strategist at Axbom Innovation
There is a phenomenon that’s going to be a crucial part of mobile experiences, and that’s the handover from the mobile device to other devices or desktop computers.
As an increasingly integral part of our lives, we perform activities on digital devices continuously throughout the day, taking notes, searching, listening, logging, reading notifications and more. Along the way we switch between devices, but that switch isn’t always seamless.
As the different types of wearable devices grow in number, it is imperative that I don’t get a repeat of a notification I have already read, that I can continue writing on my task list, that I can continue reading the long article I was reading and that if I forget to put on my smart bracelet, my steps are still counted by the phone. The reason I say handover and not sync is because this is not just about Netflix remembering my place in Daredevil – it’s about my computer knowing that on the bus home, I was reading a Guardian article on my cell phone that I never finished. So when I switch on my laptop later, I should be allowed to continue from exactly where I was. It’s about setting the egg timer on my phone and forgetting it in the bathroom, which then sounds the alarm on my tablet when I fail to turn it off on the phone.
Handover, in its best form, is artificial intelligence relying on data being passed between devices and drawing conclusions about my activities and next steps, without being in my face. It gives me cross-device access to the things I’ve indicated are important to me. The plethora of devices out there is creating awesome possibilities and giving us great data for this magic to happen. But the adoption rate – as always – will depend on how well these devices and interfaces counter the standard human defaults of forgetfulness, ego-depletion and emotional distress by giving us superpowers and not kryptonite.
New Metrics For Understanding New Devices
VP of Experience Design at EPAM
In 2016, mobile usability will take into account the delivery of a service across a larger ecosystem of mobile devices.
For example, consider how brands will measure the way their customers engage with services that require a watch application, a mobile phone application and, perhaps, an in-store beacon.
New measurement techniques will need to be developed, and will finally take usability practitioners out of “the lab”. Mobile usability measurement will require an understanding of the context and environment in which applications are used.
How does the mobile experience of 15 top eCommerce retailers compare?
New Strands In The Web Of Mobile Usability
Holistic Designer (Industrial / Product / UX) at Designwith.love and Amazon
Speech integration–given the nature of mobile devices and the forming definition of wearables through the Apple Watch and Android Wear, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Apple and Google opening up their platforms more to voice interaction.
The shortfalls of the current APIs are evident in everyday use, and limiting them to simple OS commands and opening 3rd party apps is surely just a short-term situation. In the end, you should be able to control any app on any OS using just your voice. With this comes a series of new challenges for designers, as the privacy issues of speaking out loud and limiting the interactions to what’s socially acceptable become crucial. I think we’re slowly moving towards screen-less interactions – “Her” style – and it’s exciting! Amazon Echo is showing us how that can happen in the home. Siri on iPhone and Google Now on Android for mobiles, and with tools like IFTTT linking apps and services together, voice is becoming a normal, efficient and convenient way of using devices.
New levels of interaction—another level of interaction in mobile design comes through pressure interactions. Apple’s force touch and 3D touch allow for a completely new paradigm of interaction and creativity in mobile application design. It won’t be long, I’m sure, before a similar technology of pressure sensitivity hits Android. The challenge is for designers to work out the actions that people do most and make them quicker and easier to access. Touch is a powerful tool and haptic feedback combined with pressure sensitivity can give amazing results (as Apple has shown with the trackpad on Macbooks). Interactions between physical and digital hardware are becoming more closely intertwined, complex, and beautiful.
OS development and big data–the days of the operating system acting as simply a launcher into other apps are numbered. If 3D touch, haptic feedback and voice interactions show us anything, it’s that screens are not the only ways to provide complex feedback. Pressure allows you to use your apps without leaving your home screen. Voice allows you to do this without even looking, and both Apple and Google are getting big on customer data, as well as revealing relevant information to users, faster and more seamlessly. Think of your Gmail–it adds your trains to your calendar and it tells you when you’ve booked your hotel. The OS will start doing these things too through the cloud and just as seamlessly, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it isn’t harnessed to do so much more. Apple is hinting at this with “suggested apps” but it looks like this is part of a wider picture where apps and operating systems work harder to reveal information and content to users. What matters more and more is the amount of effort users have to put in to do what they want or be where they want. Speeding up work flow and reducing effort makes things nicer, but also means we all have more time to spend with our loved ones! Imagine an operating system that knows you’ve never used your email after 6pm on a Friday, so instead it fills that spot with your TV remote app or your kids’ favourite game (and doesn’t show you the email app until Monday morning at 9am, so you’re not thinking about that little red dot or the 2016 super-urgent emails).
A final note on streamlining–what I’d like to see in apps and services this year is more of a “one-thing-done-well” attitude. Over the past year I’ve seen apps that I loved repeatedly succumb to “feature creep”, and lose the fundamental beauty of their interactions to convoluted flows and confusion. If you design anything this year, please make sure you ask yourselves, “Why are we adding this feature and what’s the user case?” Don’t be afraid to question the reasoning and wider implications of a feature addition.
(All thoughts expressed here are my own and do not reflect or represent Amazon in any way.)
Keep it Simple, Stupid
UI/UX Front Developer, Co-Founder, UI Garage
Users tend to want products that are simple.
Simplicity is key for a good product. I saw on this new app (Peach) where they made the settings just an iOS-native dropdown menu – and why not? It clearly works.
The Year Of Online Robot Butlers
Product & Interaction Designer – UX at XING
With the rise of messaging apps in the last couple of years, 2016 will finally be the year of artificial intelligence and bots.
AI will become the primary interface for getting tasks done and chat bots the new way for us to interact with brands or services. Bots will handle things like forms and checkout processes, which still suck on mobile. They’ll let us quickly and easily make progress without the need for complex interfaces.
Designing the Bot Experience will become one of the most interesting challenges for UX Design in 2016.
Recognition For Usability And UX
Founder & VP of Product at Apptourage
I think one trend we’re going to see this year is a broader acknowledgment of the role that usability, and UX in general, plays in driving positive business outcomes.
Companies will focus more resources carefully crafting the experience they deliver to users. I expect this trend to extend broadly across multiple verticals as companies realize and embrace the business case for investing in usability/UX.
Doing The Job Will Become More Important Than Looking The Part
With mobile phones taking over computers as browsing devices, mobile user interface design needs to be more about efficiency than visuals.
Design decisions will be based more on analytics and other quantitative data, while sticking to guidelines will be less important. Apps and websites need to find the patterns that work best for them, not for others.
The emphasis on screens and user interfaces, on the other hand, will decline. Apps will do most of the job in the background without the user constantly looking at the screen. Notifications will therefore play an essential part in mobile usability but they need to be smarter than what we have now.
Oh, and hidden mobile navigation (aka the hamburger menu) will also be taken over by smarter and more efficient navigation patterns.
Pushing Automation To The Limit
I think 2016 will start to push the limits of automation and No UI.
We’ll find out which user interfaces can be removed and replaced by more natural human behaviors such as voice, location, proximity and more.
The Next Stage Of Mobile Evolution And The Smart Watch
UX & Product Strategist, Digital Telepathy
In 2016, traditional UI will continue to evolve into a messaging-based experience—think SlackBot, Facebook M, Digit.co, etc.
Also, the rise of the smartwatch (e.g. Apple Watch) will have a secondary effect–simplified mobile navigation. Both of these trends, I feel, will begin to affect mobile usability.
Research And UX–The Ultimate Problem-Solving Tag Team
Head of Digital, East Asia British Council
UX solves problems that users face, so you need to know what the problems are.
You should research and understand what you think your users’ problems are – by aggregating quantitative and qualitative data – before you start trying to solve them.
Doing this will give you a solid basis on which you can formulate hypotheses.