10 Mobile Design Principles

  1. Know Your End User
    Before designing, spend time to understand the role of your end users and the specific needs that they will have while mobile. Understanding key characteristics of your users, their work environment, and the tasks they perform will help ensure that your product has the right features and optimal user experience. It can be as easy as interviewing a handful of people over the phone, but even better is to observe them doing some tasks in person. Creating a persona is a good way to summarize your understanding of a user. Refer to some example personas and other ideas in the Know Your Users Guideline.

  2. Define the Essential Mobile Task
    A mobile application must be able to stand alone and not depend on an understanding of a related desktop version. When assessing how to convert an existing desktop application into a mobile design, be aware that the key task for the desktop may be quite different from that of the mobile. We strongly encourage you to think through the mobile use case rather than relying on the desktop workflows. Do not hesitate to eliminate tasks that are not essential to the mobile requirements: A mobile application is only as good as the tasks you’ve defined. Refer to the mobile Task Flow Guideline.

  3. Contextual Design
    Mobile applications are used in trains, warehouses, taxis, and on oil platforms. Designs must work in the target work environment and maximize context awareness of the mobile device. A GPS-enabled device that maps sales representatives’ locations helps them attend their next appointment on time. A device that scans and displays information about an asset, such as details of the last service, helps a technician bring the right parts and make the appropriate repairs.

  4. Flattened Navigation Model
    Users do not want to traverse deep structures to complete a task. Flatten the navigation model for quick access to key task flows. Once users navigate to begin their work, provide a clear understanding of where they are and how they can return to their starting point. Instead of having a user log in, access a section, find an object, and then perform a task, a flattened navigation model provides quick access to the mobile task immediately after login. However, because screen real estate is precious on handheld devices, carefully consider the type and quantity of data displayed when designing the application. Progressive disclosure is the principle of only revealing what is needed at the time. While we want to make things flatter, we also must be mindful of not presenting too much information in one place.

  5. Two-Minutes-to-Get-it-Done Mobile Work Style
    Typically, mobile devices are used in short bursts, while personal computers are used for extended work sessions. Mobile users will not tolerate designs that require a lot of data entry or multi-step flows because they need to get to work faster and complete their tasks more quickly. Designs should be simple and aid task completion. Note that for tablets, not all tasks will follow the two-minute rule; while tablets are sometimes used on the go, they are also used in less mobile scenarios.

  6. Business intelligence
    Analytics and business intelligence are not limited to the desktop. Mobile users need analytics that work for small screens. A regional sales manager might see a screen that highlights store locations with the biggest sales data from last quarter or last year. A color-coded grid of locations versus key metrics draws attention to good, moderate, and bad situations. The first step in determining which analytics will be useful is to understand the mobile use case and how to integrate analytics that help decision making. A needless insertion of analytics takes up valuable real estate and makes it harder for mobile workers to do their job.

  7. Simple Search
    Search is an important part of mobile applications and must be quickly accessible. Because mobile data entry is more difficult, simplify search entry requirements to a single field when possible and place the field above related data. Results should be narrowed to what makes sense for the given context. Avoid having the user enter text into multiple fields.

  8. Collaboration
    Embed collaboration into workflows, and include triggers to call a person, connect to a social network, and text using SMS (Simple Message Service) and IM (Instant Messaging). The proliferation of social networking within the work environment demonstrates the increased importance of keeping in touch with colleagues and affiliated professionals. Mobility extends this trend by keeping coworkers in contact more often and in more places.

  9. Visual Design
    Mobile devices support graphically rich and highly responsive experiences, and users are coming to expect great design from their native mobile apps. Make sure to spend time on the look and feel throughout the design process, and not just as an afterthought. It may take several iterations.

  10. Leverage the Mobile Platform
    Mobile applications can be built to run in the browser or as native applications installed on the device. Enterprise applications should leverage mobile capabilities that allow a user to select a phone number to call or text, touch an address to map its location, use voice recognition, and natural gestures for navigation with an app. Native enterprise applications allow for more integration than those run in the browser and provide the ability to transfer enterprise data to local built-in applications, such as calendar and contacts, so that users can view important business information without signing in. Understanding each platform and maximizing the appropriate mobile actions will ensure a productive and natural mobile experience.