Recent research has shown that 80%* of adults reach for their smartphone as their primary browsing device over tablets and laptops. If you think about it, it’s too not surprising as most of us keep our phone at arms length most of the time. We conduct a lot of our daily business with our phones; on average we reach for them 150* times a day, to check our mail and social media, browse the web, read the news, handle our banking, and of course, to make calls and texts.
When you consider how and where people use their phones, they are not usually sitting at a desk or living room with controlled lighting and very little distraction. They are in a coffee shop, on a bus, out and about with lots of distractions, noise and inconsistent lighting. These factors all conspire to sap our attention, making it harder to focus on the task at hand.
Mobile vs Desktop Browsing
Generally, mobiles are used for short bursts of time and for smaller, faster tasks which require more intense focus. Laptops and tablets are typically used to perform the majority of in-depth research and comparisons; this allows people a more leisurely and comfortable pace when browsing online.
Let’s take a look at the scenario of purchasing a new pair of jeans and how this might be performed on a mobile. It could be any product but we’ll use jeans for this example.
The user is in a coffee shop with lots of noise and distractions, the lighting is subtle, they have five minutes free before their friend turns up and they are thinking about buying a new pair of jeans from an online store. We’ve mentioned about the shortened attention span that users have in distracting settings like coffee shops; the user’s journey had better be fairly fluid to keep their attention from wandering.
The user loads up the site and they are presented with the home page. Suddenly, a pop-up appears offering them 10% off their next order before they’ve had chance to think about finding what they’re looking for. They dismiss the pop-up and start trying to figure out how to find the item they want. The screen has a moving slider and the navigation is not clear. A Facebook notification appears and a barista is asking if they’ve finished with their drink. Game over – attention span broken.
If 80% of adults use their phones as their primary browsing device, we need to make sure their online experiences are as smooth and effortless as possible.
How do we do this?
With great user experience.
This is achieved by making the main task apparent. In the scenario above the user was hit with a distraction before they even had the chance to think about locating any jeans. This disrupted their flow and forced them to think and act on another task. We’ve all experienced the pop-up offering free delivery or a percentage off our first order, and these are great incentives when they appear in the correct location and don’t cause a distraction by being intrusive.
By making the main task apparent and not bombarding users with pop-ups, we relegate all other tasks and make them secondary to the main task. If the user was offered a clear, focused option to choose a clothing category they could have reached their target page within no time at all. Web developers and designers call this ‘intuitive navigation’ and it helps users to find exactly what they want in just a few quick taps.
In our example, the user had already made the choice to find a product, so all offers of free delivery or money off could be made at the product level, giving them that extra encouragement to make the purchase. Relegate pop-ups to the end of the users’ journey once they have completed their task.
What else do we need to think about?
There are lots of other considerations to aid an effortless user flow such as colour contrast of elements, especially if the task is being performed in a very bright or dimly lit environment. Simple hints and transitions also help so the user knows something is happening, for example when something is added to an online basket an icon will usually appear or change.
Focusing on the mobile experience isn’t always the correct path to take for every product or service. Performing user research will determine who your target audience are and how they use your site, but when ‘mobile first’ is right for your user base it needs to be thoroughly considered.