Mobile UX: The Importance of Balancing Function and Utility

Mobile UX: The Importance of Balancing Function and Utility

The field of UX Design is constantly evolving and with the rise in popularity of mobile devices, it has become a crucial aspect to design for.

UX designers are in a precarious position when it comes to developing mobile interfaces. Being that these interfaces need to be both functional and user-friendly, designers often have to make tough decisions on which feature should be prioritized. For example, if the app is designed for making online purchases, one would want to put the “buy” button front and center. But then again, if the app is a navigation app meant for drivers who need to safely navigate through heavy traffic, one might prioritize putting the map upfront.

In this article, I’ll explore some approaches that can help balance utility while remaining user-friendly.

It seems that the most common approach is to place what you’d call the “core” functions front and center on a mobile app interface, however, doing so isn’t always the safest route to take. As suggested by the group, it’s important to make decisions based on how often users will use a certain feature and what their needs will be when trying to complete a task. By doing so, it’s possible to prioritize a feature that may not seem as “core,” but in actuality is more important due to its frequency of use. For example, if one were to design an interface for commuters going into city traffic, they would place the map upfront and the traffic warnings/text at the bottom. Doing so allows users to keep informed, without distraction from other features.

In addition to the group’s suggestions, there are a few more ways designers can balance utility and user-friendliness. One of these methods is by utilizing microcopy to inform (and explain) specific processes throughout your app. Microcopy is used to describe buttons, icons, sliders, and other user interface elements. It’s often overlooked, but when done correctly it can help guide users around the app while helping them understand what they’re supposed to be doing. For example, in Google Docs, mobile app microscopy is used both for instructing as well as describing certain features.

To effectively use microcopy, designers should ask themselves a few questions:

  1. What are the main tasks users will be completed within this app?
  2. Are there any relevant text-based protocols that can help guide users throughout these processes?
  3. How often will an individual need to perform these tasks and how long do they take on average for completion (be specific)?

By asking these questions, it’s possible to determine which microcopy should be placed where. If for example, a user is going through a sign-up process the designer knows that users will need to create an account, log in and then input their information. By stating this within the app as well as in the website itself gives users a sense of familiarity and places a higher emphasis on the importance of that specific step.

Another method is by adding instructional overlays, which show users what features are available to them when they’re first opening up the app (or website). By doing so allows for better understanding as well as helps spark interest in areas that one might normally pass over. This method is similar to microcopy but its main purpose is to direct and teach users about the app. As shown in this mobile banking app below, it states that I can transfer money, pay bills, as well as view my balance.

By selecting an option the user is taken to a specific page with more detailed explanations of each feature they just read about. In this case, it provides instructions on how to make transfers and pay bills. By placing these features upfront, along with the instruction overlay, allows for better understanding as well as engagement within the app itself.

To balance utility and user-friendly design, it’s important to remain focused throughout the entire development process and ensure that the final product is well-rounded and fits within all parameters. It’s also important to remember that not every feature a designer envisions should be used or included in the design. To better illustrate this point, below is an image of a concept app I once created for a business class with limited time frames and resources.

Based on my understanding and research of the company, I wanted to create an app that would help entice new customers and allow for better engagement with current ones. However, when it came down to actually designing the app I realized it was far too complicated for a mobile interface. While it may have worked well on desktop, I quickly found out how difficult it was to navigate as well as utilize. Unfortunately, the app never made it past the concept stage due to these limitations.

That said, being that mobile devices are becoming more and more powerful with each update, designers need to find ways to balance utility and user-friendliness effectively without overwhelming users with too many features.

If you have any thoughts or questions on this topic, please feel free to share in the comments area below.

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