User Expectations with Mobile Apps – Catching up with Effective UI

December 21st, 2010
Published on
December 21st, 2010
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EffectiveUI CEO and president Rebecca Flavin and Anthony Franco, respectively, tell us about their new study.

User response to mobile applications depends on several factors —aesthetics, usability, and brand loyalty, to name a few. However, researchers at EffectiveUI recently underwent a study to see whether or not brand loyalty trumps usability. No surprise here: it doesn’t.

UX Booth recently caught up with Rebecca Flavin (CEO) and Anthony Franco (co-founder and president) of EffectiveUI to discuss some recent research findings. The study was simple: do users turn a blind eye to poor design if they really love the brand?

According to the study, no; the majority of users chose good experience design over brand loyalty. Conducted in October and strictly online, researchers at the Harris Interactive firm — as commissioned by EffectiveUI — discovered that among a US-based sampling of over 780 individuals that are over 18 years old, the majority will abandon a mobile app if it is too difficult to use.

Findings and caveats

These findings may seem obvious — of course users won’t use an app if they can’t figure out how to. However, the significance in the study really lies in the wisdom companies can draw from it: brand strength and reputation can be bruised by a useless, troublesome, or superfluous mobile application. Therefore, it’s important to carefully consider the need for a mobile app before jumping on the development bandwagon.

On the flip-side and in the spirit of full disclosure, it’s important to keep in mind that this study was commissioned on behalf of a user interaction design firm. Convincing clients that good UX and UI design is quantitatively beneficial is of immediate and obvious importance. Studies that are commissioned can make findings seem more significant than they may really be, so I encourage all readers to read the study for themselves.

To see the press release, including a breakdown of both findings and methodology, check it out at EffectiveUI’s site.

The interview was conducted in mid-November, 2010. The findings of the study were released in early November.

The study mentions that users of mobile apps may feel that companies are “failing their users as well as their own brand.” Is this kind of sentiment unique to mobile applications, or is this applicable to companies’ web applications/websites as well?

While this sentiment is not necessarily unique to mobile users, the study does highlight that mobile is a critical part of the overall brand experience. 73% of mobile app users say they expect a company’s mobile app to be easier to use than its website. There tends to be higher user expectations of the mobile channel since speed and efficiency are often the most desired user objectives for this channel.

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A few notable figures from the study, including that 73% of users expect mobile apps to be simpler than websites.

Is the apparent failing of application design in part due to an added pressure of simply having a mobile app? In other words, is this user dissatisfaction invoked because some apps are simply superfluous?

Certainly that is one cause. There is a supporting blog post, from Anthony, that discusses other causes and strategies to avoid them.

Additionally, here are some key insights on mobile application design that developers should keep in mind:

  • Users will not tolerate mobile apps that are perceived as slow to open or operate.
    • Speed is even more important for apps than it is for websites on a computer.
    • Users are often accessing these apps when they have only a few minutes of downtime, and so speed is paramount.
    • Apps do not allow multi-tasking the way that browsers on a computer do, so users require instant gratification.
  • Simplicity of functionality and organization are key to good mobile app design.
  • Mobile apps should be linear in design—this is distinct from a typical website approach that offers multiple paths and options. Apps present you with menus, you do what you need to do, and you move out.
  • Mobile app users do not want to be overwhelmed by too many choices and distractions when they are trying to access a feature. People want fewer choices in mobile, because if you put too many choices in mobile, users will give up.
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Summing up why people download apps

The study states that with mobile apps, “usability and user experience are more important than brand name alone.” Are there any cases where the opposite is true, where brand name ultimately trumps experience?

There are circumstances where brand trumps user experience. Those cases are typically limited to content providers (Publishers, Networks etc). However, I am attending the Digital Hollywood conference in NYC as I write this and content providers really understand that user experience is an integral part of enjoying the content they provide.

The premise of the study, that users are more likely to utilize a mobile application based on recommendation or experience (rather than brand name alone), is supported by claims that “66% have downloaded” based on review or recommendation, and that “57% have recommended” apps based on good experiences. How are these figures significant? How does the study account for the fairly large chunks of users that haven’t downloaded based on recommendation?

Great question…perhaps the topic of our next survey. In my humble opinion, I think we will see much higher numbers once we look at how an app’s ratings have a significant factor in downloads. I think ratings are simply a recommendation from someone you don’t know.

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Recommendation is king in the mobile app world.

According to a new survey from Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, 35% of adults have cell phones with apps, but only two-thirds of those who have apps actually use them. I would theorize those apps were abandoned because they did not deliver the value or utility, or had offered poor usability or user experience.

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A few more key figures from the EffectiveUI study.

What have we learned?

Users clearly don’t like to be beaten over the head with a useless mobile application, no matter how well it’s branded. Recommendations really do matter when it comes to app implementation among users, so even famously branded companies can’t skate by with mediocre design.

But once again, I encourage readers of UX Booth to visit the study for themselves and look at the results. And by all means, share your thoughts down below.