Mobile is rapidly changing with new techniques for native apps and responsive websites. Designers have to keep up with these changes and follow trends that work to give users the best interaction possible. This all comes down to user experience and user engagement, two emerging areas that are becoming intertwined with interface design.
The best UX work gets done through research and testing. But how do you start researching and what should you be looking for? This is a tough question because the answer changes based on context.
In this guide I want to share top strategies for mobile UX design. These tips can apply to native applications just as much as responsive websites. But it’s also the method of application that truly matters. As long as you think critically about design work and consistently try new things you’ll always be ahead of the game.
The Goal of UX Research
Primarily your goal with user experience research is to learn which techniques give the best results. You want to see from the user’s perspective and make informed design decisions to simplify and expedite the user’s experience.
Everything in the interface should be made on the user’s behalf. A website or mobile app should function well for the majority of users, and the only way to solve this is by studying how users interact with an interface. This is achieved through UX research.
All research has three primary stages which merge together into the final product.
- Gather data & repeat trends
- Analyze data to gather opinions/theories
- Apply these ideas to live project(s) and study results
This cycle can be repeated endlessly with a goal of consistent optimization for better performance. In fact many UX designers like this consistent process because it does bear fruitful results.
Case studies can be very scientifically-oriented and results are clearly visible when you know what you’re looking for. The differences come down to the types of tests and what the data actually means in terms of applicable UI/UX changes.
Scientific research studies are called quantitative because they result in numeric values. Think of metrics like time on page, time on task, and click through rate.
Alternatively there is qualitative testing which queries the quality of a user’s experience. These tests look for more philosophical answers from asking general questions like “why was our click through rate so low?”
Both types of research and testing are necessary in the UX research process.
Let’s cover some techniques as they pertain to user experience on mobile and see how they could fit into your workflow.
You may not wish to follow all of these suggestions because not all of them will help your end goal. But it helps to understand the methods out there and how these methods can affect your bottom line.
A great starting point is with observational testing. These tests can be done with remote studies thanks to screen recording software.
The biggest difficulty here is losing a personal touch with face-to-face conversations. But if you’re looking for a simple research procedure then start with screen recording and user feedback methods.
There are two types of screen studies, moderated and automated. The moderation study gives feedback to the user as they proceed during the tests. Automated tests work as if nobody is there to help the user, so they just need to figure out everything on their own.
Both tests have their pros and cons but I find automated tests to be simpler providing more natural results when you need a fresh set of eyes.
When conducting a test like this you first want to jot down some goals and objectives. Try not to make assumptions like “the average user will solve a task in X seconds”. Instead turn that into a goal like “the ideal time on task is X seconds”.
With a goal(or goals) down on paper it’ll be easier to come up with predetermined tasks for the visitors. The real difficulty is tracking mobile experiences because these are trickier than desktop experiences. Platforms like UserZoom will basically do everything for you, so the best place to start is probably with SaaS/webapp services.
With this in mind try to consider analytics tracking with common usability testing features. Here are some you can test for:
- Inclination to begin a task
- Time between tasks/taps
- Time to complete a task
- Number of mistakes in a given task flow
You’ll have to track these metrics yourself with video recordings. Over a full panel of testers you’ll start to notice patterns emerge. I highly recommend starting with screen recordings because there’s so much to learn from watching new users.
And if you’re looking for more information try skimming these posts.
In The Mind Of A User
If you have the time and money to perform qualitative testing you’ll learn a lot more from casual conversations. It’s always great to track numbers, and there’s no denying the power of metrics.
But not every problem can be solved with numbers.
You can still use all the common mobile usability tools for testing when you move towards qualitative information. The difference is how you gather feedback. Consider these tests for your app or website to see if they could solve your issues.
- Lab tests
- Screen recordings
- Online questionnaires
- Live feedback via audio recording
I’d argue the most important point of qualitative research is to ask questions. There are some things you just won’t recognize until multiple users vocalize the same issue(s).
Qualitative feedback may also come from alternate research methods like eye tracking or heatmap studies. These are great because they show a mix of data: it’s still scientific, but requires subjective conclusions.
Why are people clicking mostly on the top navigation rather than the bold CTA button? Why are most people scrolling down quickly without reading any page copy above the fold? If these questions arise they’re easy to answer by asking the users about their behaviors.
There are good arguments for moving past typical observational testing and moving towards direct Q&A tests. Personal interviews can detour into avenues you never even considered being problematic.
But the best advice here is to put aside preconceived notions you have about a website or application. Your mobile app or website isn’t built for you, but rather for the people using it.
Generally speaking, qualitative research is meant to solve problems by direct communication with users.
Tracking metrics & numbers can only get you so far. And most of the time those metrics are for marketers and business execs. But as the designer you’ll learn a whole lot more with direct communication whenever possible.
So where should you get started? The first option is to use metric testing & screen recording tools, but keep in touch with users to ask for their feedback over the Internet. This requires more work like setting up chats, phone calls, and spreadsheets for tracking responses.
Also consider visiting UX communities like Reddit’s /r/UserExperience and /r/UXResearch. Both are full of people asking questions, solving problems, and most are willing to help you along your path as well.
UX Research Tools
Before closing I’d like to offer some practical tools that you can try in your research process. There is no one correct tool and many new products hit the web all the time.
Just be open to new experiences and don’t worry too much about reviews. If everyone raves about a particular tool that you found useless, it’s totally reasonable to move on. Your goal is to pull valuable metrics that actually help you improve your application. If that’s happening then you’re on the right track.
This is undoubtedly one of the best mobile-facing UX research tools on the web. Lookback can help you track bugs, personal feedback, and screen recordings of sample users interacting with your mobile UI. The site has a small examples page if you want to see how these videos work and the recording quality.
What I like most about Lookback is their candor and open nature. You can read all about user research on their site to understand the importance of this process.
From what I can tell this platform is geared towards native mobile apps(like iOS or Android). However it does have a changelog for web features so I think mobile responsive websites can be included in the testing package.
If you need an all-around solution from prototypes to full products then consider UserTesting. I briefly mentioned one of their free tools called Peek, but the site has so much more to offer.
You can track live videos and real user feedback from a wide audience of participants. UserTesting handles the entire thing for you, leaving you time to simply analyze the results. It’s ultimately a customer feedback platform but the tools really lean towards UX research.
To learn more check out their FAQ page.
If you need a specific type of audience then dscout is worth checking out. You can limit testers based on age, gender, location, and other factors that may contribute to the results.
The goal is to capture videos and user reactions based on predefined objectives. You simply write some details for the user to follow and watch how they perform. Behavioral data is curated in a dashboard where you can check back and pinpoint trends over time.
Plus this app is great for testing prototypes if you don’t have fully-functional software.
If you’re a mobile game designer you can get many of the same features with PlaytestCloud, but with an audience interested in gaming.
The Optimizely platform is well-regarded as a crucial tool for A/B multivariate testing. It offers everything you need to connect your mobile platform into data charts for tracking funnels, conversions and predefined behaviors.
A/B testing can feel disconnected but Optimizely helps organize the results so you can understand what they mean. A similar solution is Apptimize which focuses specifically on A/B tests for native mobile applications.
Honestly there are so many user research tools that I couldn’t possibly list them all. I’ve focused primarily on mobile tools for this guide, but if there’s a feature you need that’s not listed here I guarantee you can find it elsewhere.
And if you’re itching for more here are some related programs that are more specific to certain tests, but are quite valuable assets in the UX progress.
UX research is best left to discussions on the field of practice. If you’re not sure where to begin just make a list of questions or goals for your website. Then get started and see what happens!
Most lessons are learned by actually running tests and following the information. This guide should point you on the right path but always be willing to learn more and try new things. And if you’re looking for more reading material check out these related UX posts.