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8 considerations when creating mobile phone apps

Danica Former UX Consultant 26th Nov, 2014
Close up of a hand using mobile device

Usability testing is a tool used to evaluate a set of instructions or product, and is a necessary part of the process of writing instructions or developing a digital product. When we test mobile phone applications our key objectives are often to:

  • Determine if the mobile app is easy to use and meets user needs
  • Highlight issues/problems that can be fixed
  • Highlight key elements of the look and feel of the app
  • Provide recommendations on what works well and what needs improvement in regards to usability functions.

Usually when we test a new prototype with key target users, participants will generally react positively to the overall idea or intended purpose of the app. They might really value the amount of information available. However they also might find it difficult to locate information required in some of the specific task scenarios. 

Some participants might not want to appear stupid, and will comment that this failure was due to them being a first time user, or because they were not familiar with the layout and content of the application. But as a developer, ideally you want to hit the ground running when your app is launched to the public. It should be intuitive and user-friendly from the very first download onwards.

The following are some common issues we have come across when user testing emerging phone apps.

1. Ensure your information architecture is intuitive

Participants can struggle to find key information, particularly if a user is required to switch between heading menus or between different sections of an app. Critical usability issues can arise if the navigation pathways or headings are not intuitive for participants to follow. In addition, it’s important to test the use of acronyms in phone apps. They might make sense to you, but not your intended target audience.

2. Carefully consider your layout and design template

The overall layout and design can often contribute to some usability issues, particularly due to the colour contrast and size of headings, and a lack of awareness that users can interact with any graphs or images used in the app. 

3. Consider including PayPal as a payment method

If the app features a payment method, participants will generally request the option to pay via PayPal if it’s not already there. You may also get some resistance from people who are concerned about using their credit card details on a phone app, either for security reasons or because they fear they might accidentally tap on the wrong digits when attempting to pay a bill or purchase a product using this method. Often they might ask to see a secure pay icon on screen.

4. Ensure the menu icon is not too close to other headings on screen

Ideal menu icon and content placement on mobile site

If headings are too close to the burger menu on screen, participants might accidentally navigate to the menu when they try to tap section heading.  Ensure that tappable headings are located a safe distance away from the menu burger bar.

This example at right shows a tappable heading located a good distance from the tappable burger menu.

5. Font size needs to be readable

If your app requires graphs or figures to communicate information, ensure that the axis labels are in a font size and contrast colour that allows for easy viewing at a glance. 

6. Consider alerting users to interactive features

If an app includes interactive graphs, for example if users can scroll through a graph to see information at different time points, consider informing the user through an interactive icon that illustrates they can interact with the graph. An alternative could be to include a 'how to use this app' video for first time users.

7. Entry fields should automatically clear default text

If users need to enter a figure into an entry field, the existing default figure should automatically disappear when users tap into the field. Users should not have to backspace to delete the existing figure that currently appears in this entry field.

8. Menu should be easy to open and minimise

Consider the functionality of the menu section, and ensure users can minimise this section by swiping or re-tapping the exact spot they used to open this section (i.e. where menu burger bar was originally located when they tapped to open it.

We hope these tips and ideas have been useful if you’re currently in the process of developing a mobile phone app.  For more information about usability testing your design, contact us here at U1 Group.

About The Author

Danica Former UX Consultant

Danica previously worked with us and was a great community hero; incredibly passionate about doing work that benefitted people’s quality of life and projects that influenced public policy. With a background in market research, psychology, biology, international relations and political science, Danica would continually grow her understanding of the psychological basis of behaviour, and explore how people used technology.


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