UX Immersion Conference 2013: Mobile (Part 1)

The UX Immersion group out to dinner after the conference.

UX Immersion distinguishes itself from other conferences by doing a focused deep-dive into a single current issue. This year, we were fortunate in their selection of Mobile as the topic. Through workshops and talks, our team was able to gain a wealth of new information and techniques to help us design for the mobile space in the future. We also got a sense of what being mobile really means, discovering that 77% of mobile searches take place at home or at the desk at work and that 31% of mobile internet users report it being the primary way they go online (both stats courtesy of Karen McGrane).

Instead of dove-tailing the mobile experience into inane simplicity, the conference challenged us in a host of ways to expand our view of mobile design potentials. Luke Wroblewski dared us to encourage rather than limit mobile input. Karen McGrane pushed us to use mobile as a catalyst to clean up content and re-think the website. Every presenter brought a new perspective or a new challenge for us. We will now highlight these insights for each session.


Workshop session

Two of the conference days, Monday and Wednesday, were reserved for full-day workshops on a specific topic. This gave attendees the chance to do a deep dive, often with hands-on activities, into areas that interested them. In all there were six workshops, which we recap below.


Designing Intuitive Mobile Inputs – Luke Wroblewski

Iliana Radneva

In his workshop, Luke covered a number of patterns and anti-patterns that exist today across non-mobile-optimized, (supposedly) mobile-optimized, and mobile sites, discussing how traditional web forms translate (or don?t) to the mobile platforms. He went on to question the somewhat widespread belief that data input on mobile should be avoided by saying that we should encourage it instead but also make sure that we choose the right input given the user context.

Luke urged us to go beyond the use of standard forms and fields by capitalizing on software and hardware capabilities that make gathering input more contextual, intuitive, and ? ultimately ?? easier. At every step while designing an information-gathering process, Wroblewski recommended we ask ourselves: ?Do I really need the keyboard?? and use the mobile keyboard only as a last resort. Luke argued that the numerous constraints that the mobile platform imposes (screen space, speed, user context, etc.) can actually be beneficial for both design and?business because they provide opportunities to re-think existing patterns that were optimized for desktop and help us create innovative designs that are not only successful now but are “future-ready” for the next popular platform, whatever it might be (Google glass, Apple iWatch, etc.).

So, in addition to asking ourselves if we really need the keyboard, we should continue to push the envelope and explore other alternative methods to interact with our devices. A perfect case in point is?our very own Mike DiGiovanni’s Winky app -?a simple yet fascinating, innovative Google Glass app that is a direct result of forsaking the expected method of input (audio) for an alternative, smoother interaction. And?maybe it’s not too early to take the “mobile first” design approach to the next level and start thinking about apps that are “iWatch-first” or “Google Glass first”; apps that we can control with the blink (wink?) of an eye. 😉


Prototyping for Mobile Design – Kelly Goto

Andy Parquette

In Kelly Goto?s workshop, we got hands on experience with prototyping for mobile devices, which is something I was very interested in learning more about. ?We went into a discussion about the uses of prototypes, and how they are important to all aspects of the user experience, namely how a prototype can be used from the brainstorming session to the final design/testing phase. ?Prototyping is communication,? Kelly said, stressing the importance of prototyping in every aspect of the design process. We debated the differences between high fidelity and low fidelity tools, and when you would use each. We broke into teams and created our own prototypes using one of the many tools we discussed. My team used POP app, a low fidelity tool that takes pictures of wireframes and compiles them into a prototype for testing. We tested the prototype out in the streets of Seattle, approaching various people and saw the fruits of our labor first hand- the actual beauty and ease a prototype provides when explaining designs and generating critical user feedback. The biggest takeaway from this workshop was ?design for mobile first,? the idea of starting with a simple design in mobile and adding additional features for tablet and desktop.? Prototypes are useful in every aspect of testing the mobile user experience, because you can see/test your wireframes, and see the experience in real time. I thoroughly enjoyed Kelly?s workshop and will be using the prototyping methods we applied in my next project at Roundarch Isobar.


Mapping Your Customer?s Journey ? Chris Ridson

Vinaya Vishwanath

Chris identified the different stages of creating a user story ?

  • 1) Discovery: What are the moving parts? This stage helps us understand inventory or ecosystem.
  • 2) Research: Gather data about the customer and his journey.
  • 3) Mapping the Journey: Putting it all down on a map.
  • 4) Communicating the Journey: Tell a story.
  • 5) Identifying Takeaways: After effects.

To make our own customer journey, we divided into groups to analyze the hotel booking and check-in experience. At the end of the day, we had to present a customer journey and our findings. All of us in the room were learning how to tell a good story.

Every story has key touchpoints, which are moments when the customer comes in contact with a person or a machine. While gathering data, we are to look for how the customer feels, thinks, along with what the customer does. For our activity, groups selected an interviewer, an interviewee (who went to other groups to be interviewed), a scout team (people who went out into the hotel to experience the check-in process), and note takers (observers).? At the end of the discovery period, we had gathered a lot of information, identified touchpoints and documented statistics. The next phase was to consolidate this information on to a map.

?It is best to leave the statistics out of a map and blur any details,? as numbers distract from the story. Qualitative analysis takes precedence over quantitative analysis. ?Tell a story with depth and experience?- It is important to create empathy around the customer?s journey. Our team had so much data to work with we had no idea what to put on a map. We focused our story around a single touchpoint, which was the customer interacting with the hotel staff. We made an experience map based on positive and negative customer feelings. Once we stripped the story down to the positives and negatives, we readily knew what in the check-in process needed to be fixed and what had to be enhanced.

At Roundarch Isobar, we?ve found using a customer/experience journey to be a very useful way of planning out projects with our clients. A prime takeaway from this workshop for me is how to best collect & focus data, in order to make our future customer journeys tell a stronger and more compelling story. Referring back to the journey throughout the lifecycle of a given project will also help make our design work stronger, by tying it into the initial research in an easy and straightforward way.


Adapting Your Content for Mobile ? Karen McGrane

Ronald Stevens

In her workshop around content strategy, Karen McGrane spoke on considerations for how to handle content in a mobile experience. She began her presentation by stating four mobile truths:

1)???? Content matters on mobile

2)???? You should strive for content parity across screens

3)???? It’s not a strategy if you can’t maintain it

4)???? You don’t get to decide which device people use to view your content, they do


Removing the belief that only certain pieces of content should be available on mobile, Karen speaks to the need to have a content strategy that organizes content in such a way that it can be easily displayed on any device or screen. She also touched on the need for more usable content management systems that take into consideration cross channel experiences?and allow for a detailed breakdown of content elements that can not only be used for the current version of a website, but could also be applied to future designs.

My primary take away from this workshop was that as a UX Designer, I need to not only look at the way I design interfaces and experiences cross channel, I need to also champion the way that the content is structured across each channel. When we look at clients like Healthways or HBO, the need for structured content that can make it easier to use and display across multiple interfaces becomes essential to a great experience. This content structuring can be accomplished by working towards more usable content?management?systems (CMS).?In our work, we spend a lot of time thinking through the front end, and we certainly use CMS, but it is clear we need to spend more time ensuring the back end CMS systems are leveraged properly to support more complex cross-channel content strategies.


Conducting Usability Research for Mobile ? Cyd Harrell

Adam Matthews

While mobile usability research is still in its early stages, Cyd discussed & demonstrated several possible techniques. A few stood out as most useful:

  • – Sit the user in an arm chair and have an arm-mounted camera above the phone, as it is held in one hand
  • – ?Hug? a (backwards) laptop with the webcam pointed down at the phone/tablet to live-stream the test to remote stakeholders
  • – Use the front-facing camera to record the user?s face (requires phone to be plugged in since this is a huge battery drainer)
  • – Some early screen recording software, although it is limited to within one app and ignores even the OS chrome (e.g., soft keyboard)

Downsides to these setups include having to adjust the brightness of the phone so it shows up in video, not allowing the user to move the phone from under the camera (e.g., to use both hands), and the power-draining nature of most software solutions.

Conversely, a current great use of mobile research is diary-like studies for collecting exploratory data. Participants can be pinged randomly throughout the research period, and answer short mobile questionnaires about their current state or activity. This is optimal for gaining insight to user emotions or in-the-moment task-orientation.

Even though the test setup may be drastically different for mobile usability testing, the skills remain the same to prepare and facilitate sessions, and synthesize the resulting data. With all of these abilities firmly in place at Roundarch Isobar, and several mobile projects underway, the fact that usability research for mobile is more of an extension of traditional research rather than an entirely new skillset means our team can engage in it with little or no additional overhead.


Responsive Design Meets the Real World ? Jason Grigsby

Anandi Pendse

Jason Grigsby?s workshop covered how Responsive design is implemented using CSS and Media Queries.

It was a hands-on workshop, touching upon:

  • 1) Making basic changes to the CSS to make a website responsive.
  • 2) How to decide breakpoints without being device specific, since lines between device classes based on size are blurring.
  • 3) CSS modifications for Hardware pixels vs. software pixels
  • 4) Dealing with images for a responsive design.
  • 5) Real world examples for dealing with different screen elements in a responsive design.
  • 6) Testing for Responsive Design

At Roundarch Isobar UX Designers always work very closely with developers and the Visual Design team. However with Responsive Design-focused projects this back and forth dramatically increases as we try to ensure the feasibility of every little design decision. Understanding how responsive design is technically ?implemented will help cut down on some of those back and forth questions and create designs that are more mindful of CSS constraints, loading time constraints and that are responsive to screen size rather than device type.

Jason left us with the thought that we can never know what new devices are coming and hence can never have responsive design that works for everything. ?But we can definitely work towards making our design future-friendly if not future-proof.