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When developers make mistakes these are usually translated into usability errors, or what is the same, in the way the user interacts with a technological tool, an application or a website. Usability is a term that every developer should always keep in mind. It is so important that it’s defined as a discipline and is part of the international quality standard ISO 9241-11: Guidance on Usability.
Usability includes a great variety of products or technological systems. We are going to focus here on mobile devices.
It should be noted that usability benefits both the user and the developer. The latter, for example, can see the lines of code reduced, something very important when maintaining an application, since more lines of code mean more expenses to fix errors or redesign. Also, users require less assistance, and the number of those who use the application increases. For example, by simply placing the ‘Buy’ button in a web shop you are playing with the usability of the page. If this button is not visible and the shopping process is not fast, at the end there will be fewer purchases and less users will visit the website. Amazon is well aware of this, and that’s why it has a very effective 'buy in one click' option.
The principles of good usability
Many techniques have been used to achieve a good usability, from the study of a same application by thousands of users to eye-tracking technologies, which analyse the way users visually explore the interface they are interacting with. This way, the areas which are paid more attention by the user are detected, allowing to establish patterns of use.
These are some general principles that every developer should keep in mind when creating an application for mobile devices. Thus, it is very important to:
Reduce the content or the information that is displayed on the screen. Keep in mind that we are working for a screen of a mobile device. Normally, it is difficult to reduce the content. In this case, the best would be to prioritize the most relevant information or present the options that may be used more frequently.
Add the typical 'Back' or 'Previous' buttons, allowing to undo changes easily or to start over again.
Minimize the input of text. You must avoid, above all, asking users to enter the same information repeatedly. Besides, it is also a good idea to take advantage of the possibility of introducing text-to-speech capabilities, an increasing trend in Android and Apple devices.
Reduce the loading time of the application. This can be achieved by optimizing the size of the images, adapting them to different resolutions, and compressing the files that the user can download. Also, a good rule of thumb would be to download all the necessary files before showing the first screen, using a ‘splash screen’ indicating the loading time of the application.
Create several designs for the same screen, i.e. for touchscreen or non-touchscreen devices. Today, the use of phones with multi-touch screens is widespread, but there are also mobile devices with trackball or joystick, remote controls, etc.
Design a smart navigation and even include ‘breadcrumbs’, allowing the user to jump easily from one side to another of the application.
The most common mistakes of a developer
Bearing these tips in mind, you will probably avoid some of the most common mistakes made by developers. For example:
The links of websites for mobile devices are typically not large enough to facilitate the user to click. This happens both with buttons and with hyperlinked texts, which should be big enough to be able to click with just one touch of the finger. The latter also has to do with the responsive capacity of the link, which usually fails because it doesn’t work until we have clicked on it several times.
The loading speed is another of the pitfalls the user has to deal with when accessing the Internet through a mobile device.
In many applications, form fields or search fields do not respond properly to the input of data.
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