Design for the Mobile Experience
Author: Brent White, Principal Interaction Designer – Oracle Applications User Experience
The way we look at work is changing — it is no longer defined by one locale or by long, focused periods of effort.
Whether working from home, in transit, or on location, today’s workforce is more productive while mobile than ever before. And enterprising companies provide the appropriate tools and software to meet the work style of this evolving workforce, whether it is for recent graduates, who may not use fixed telephone lines and grew up operating in a mobile context, or adapters of the mobile lifestyle, who integrate mobile communication devices to stay in touch with family, friends, and the office.
For Oracle, understanding how to optimize the work quality, productivity and efficiency of our customers’ work and life styles is fundamental to the success of the next generation of mobile applications. As technologies improve screen resolution, connection speeds, device management, battery life, and user interactions, the previous limitations of mobile devices are receding. The challenge for us, as designers and usability engineers, is to understand mobile enterprise workers, the context in which they use their devices, and the key tasks they need and want on their handheld devices.
Design differences for mobile applications as opposed to desktop applications are significant. Some of the characteristics of mobile users include completing tasks in short spurts, often being on the move, and being distracted by changes in the physical environment.
For instance, a person completing a form while waiting for a train may have to negotiate a crowd when the train arrives. By the time he enters the train and finds a seat, he may have forgotten his next step. Therefore, tasks need to be succinct, easily recoverable, and fast — taking less than a few minutes to complete.
Mobile applications are not just an extension of desktop applications; they also support constant updates, decision-making, and even data entry. With lower costs, portability, and better computing power, mobile devices have become a platform for providing analytics, such as performance metrics for sales professionals, forms to capture car accident pictures, data for insurance adjusters, and stock price alerts for brokers.
Whether connected or disconnected, Oracle’s customers need to complete their tasks and work seamlessly with corporate databases.
When Oracle’s designers transition from desktop to mobile design, they often focus first on constraints. However, mobile devices provide design interactions that are not possible on a desktop computer. For example, many phones that come with GPS can tell a customer where he is, reducing data input required for driving directions and location-based searches.
Mobile devices can use audio and vibration to alert users while they are attending to other tasks. Collaboration and communication continue to be central to the mobile experience; incorporating SMS (Short Message Service), MMS (Multimedia Message Service), and phone calls can make task completion more efficient.
For instance, when regional sales managers are reviewing results by store location, they may scroll to a specific store and call the store manager by clicking a dial button. Designers of mobile applications must be constantly vigilant in seeking opportunities to leverage the mobile device’s form factor, or size and display orientation, voice, touch, GPS, and SMS/MMS.
The experience of using mobile applications significantly affects satisfaction, productivity, and motivation to continue usage. These design principles are fundamental to maximizing the adoption of Oracle’s next generation of mobile solutions.
Oracle's 10 Mobile Design Principles
Building Usability into Mobile Applications
Usability is a core theme for the next generation of Oracle mobile applications. We are fully committed to understanding the mobile workforce, the key tasks they complete, how they merge their work and personal lives on their devices, and in which contexts they use their devices. Background research with current and potential customers is important to make sure that strategic and design directions will meet business goals and customer needs.
A three-phase research program, currently under way, is comprised of product evaluation, customer interviews, and ethnographic research.
Product evaluation. We are assessing current Oracle mobile applications and best-of-breed mobile applications using a set of heuristics derived from the design principles above. The goal of this research is to determine what works well and should be used in future designs.
In-depth interviews. We want to engage customers who have implemented mobile solutions, who would like to implement them, and who have chosen not to implement them to understand business needs and motivations. In these discussions, we talk with strategic decision-makers to understand their company’s mobile implementations or the reasons they haven’t been implemented, and discern their future mobile plans, mobile culture, and what’s missing from their mobile offerings.
Ethnographic research. We follow both mobile business and consumer users to observe and identify the context of mobile usage, types of tasks completed, types of users, mobile perceptions, and unexpected usage of applications and devices. This study is conducted in three countries: the United States, a key business user market; Japan, a cutting-edge market; and India, an emerging market, to ensure that diverse cultures and users are represented.
This research program informs the Mobile User Experience team about the mobile workforce, customer direction, the mobile context, and what users may expect, need, or want in their handheld applications and devices. From there, our team will develop a set of user experiences and interface interactions that lead to compelling applications that empower mobile enterprise users and provide a competitive advantage.