The smartphone revolutionized how apps and page design apply to a smaller screen. Unfortunately, not everyone gets it right. There are hundreds of thousands of apps that look terrible and are a nightmare to use. The problem is the complexity of most apps. Site and app designers try to mimic the original website as an app when in reality, most users do not need 99% of the functionality. Here are three important principles that designers should think about when dealing with smaller screens:
Small screens, big thumbs
One of the biggest complaints about user interfaces on smartphones is when text or a button is too small. The first principle is to design for small screens and big thumbs. Often, we use one finger to make a selection on the phone. When the active area is too small, it fails. Then, the user has to pinch-to-zoom before they can continue. Stick to large text, with a clearly defined thumb sized touch zones.
The advantage apps on smartphones have over traditional websites, and computer applications are context. The phone is always with the user, has location information and can use that information to make context-specific changes. For example, the Virgin Atlantic application’s primary use is to book airline tickets. However, once the user books a ticket, a day before the flight, it switches its primary interface to that of a travel assistant. That is a great use of context.