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Let's do better with mobile design

One of the ironies of mobile MR is that after almost a decade of increasing the clutter on online questionnaire screens with gadgets and images in the name of increasing engagement we now are faced with a platform were less really is more.  This point is driven home by Mobile Usability, a new book by Jakob Nielsen and Raluca Budiu.  What I like about the book is not that it sets out some startling new principles for mobile design, but rather how it derives those principle.  IMHO, much of what market researchers have argued for in web survey design is based in intuition and salesmanship rather than solid empirical research.

I have always felt that while there are things we can learn from website design, online surveys are a fundamentally different beast than websites.  Nonetheless, the basic thrust of the Nielsen and Budiu argument rings true for mobile MR:

The desktop user interface platform differs from the mobile user interface platform in many ways, including interaction techniques, how people read, context of use, and the plain amount of content that can be grasped at a glance.

 From this they suggest three basic principles when redesigning a website for mobile:

  1. Cut features to eliminate non-core functionality.
  2. Reduce word count.
  3. Enlarge interface elements to accommodate the “fat finger” problem.

One of the most interesting discussions in the book focuses on the cognitive aspects of mobile use. They describe something they call “the peephole effect,” arguing that reading on a small screen like an iPhone significantly degrades comprehension.  They cite research in which 50 participants were asked to read the privacy policies of 10 popular websites on either a desktop or an iPhone.  The comprehension scores for the iPhone were half those of the desktop.  MobileconfusionThey attribute this to two things.  First, we have to rely on memory for the proper context for the limited amount of information in the currently viewable space.  Second, we have to scroll and scrolling is distracting, further degrading memory of what we already have read.  And if we have to refer back, it makes things even worse.

There is a good deal more in the book that researchers might find useful.  But the real issue, from my point of view, is the use of theory and empirical testing in combination to drive design.  It’s been rare to find this combination in so much of the ROR on web survey design.  Let’s try to do better with mobile.