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Internet Librarian 2010: Mobile Usability

Jeff Wisniewski

Usability is the study of the relative ease with which a user can complete a given task.  We want users to be able to do something — the sites are there for use, so how do we do it right?  There are major guidelines for app development for all of the major platforms.  Even if you’re developing a mobile site, not an app, the guidelines can still be helpful to show you the experience your users expect.  Also check out the W3C’s Mobile OK Checker to ensure your mobile site meets coding standards.  Not only are you designing for occasional inexperienced users, but highly distract-able occasional inexperienced users.  Instead of thinking of broad detailed tasks, focus on smaller micro-interactions (like finding the hours).  Desktop sites are wide, tend to be deep, and very complex.  They are stable and get infrequent use.  And you can predict how folks will be interacting with your site — a mouse, keyboard, trackpad, etc.  Mobile sites need to be simple, slim, and get even more infrequent use.  But the device proliferation and fragmentation within OSs has created a difficult situation for predicting how our users will be interacting with our sites.  What should we test on mobile sites?  Functional testing — much more critical in mobile than in desktop.  Task-based testing.  User satisfaction surveys are important too.  Mobile resource usability is affected by so many layers — the hardware of the device (processor, screen size), the device OS, the flavor of user interface (as with the HTC Sense UI for Android), the device browser, etc.  There are of course the popular touch-screen mobile phones, non-touch screen mobile phones, quick messaging phones, and the tablets/pads proliferating like gangbusters.  Jeff suggests first to conduct a heuristic evaluation of your content.  Then he recommends doing some rapid paper prototyping to sketch up UIs.  There are a number of simulators and emulators to use on your desktop computer to view what the mobile site will look like. Jeff showed some examples of basic and seriously advanced paper prototyping.  You can do some HTML prototyping too, a wireframe of a mobile site testable on desktops and mobile devices.  Jeff provided a long list of emulators and simulators, but recommended that we test our mobile content on someone’s real device that they use every day.  Just pull in those favors from your colleagues. There is a tool called MobiReady that checks your mobile site’s code (similar to W3C MobileOK Checker).  Jeff recommends Browsercam, which does offer mobile browser previews.  Another tool, DeviceAnywhere, collects data for mobile testing.  It’s helpful to also gather more subjective user feedback as well — Did they like the site?  Would they use it again?  Ensure the questions are short and not text-boxes (after all, remember they’re on mobile!) :)

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