Artily smeared photo of colorful neon lights

Mobile UX is not like Web UX

Published 2016-01-18

It is, in fact, kind of exactly the opposite.

Working through the UX for an iOS app today I had an epiphany. 20 years of web UX instincts are wrong for mobile.

My instinct, indeed the entireity of my professional UX practice, is aimed at articulating how to reduce user motion. Put everything above the fold. Maximize information density. Bullet lists. Efficient summaries. Multi-column layouts. One-click calls-to-action. On the desktop web, the user has only one cursor, it is probably really far from your desired call to action, and clicking on anything usually yields a long lag where either a) the client and server negotiate an exchange or b) a jankity JavaScript library fakes like you’re not actually doing a). The UX designer’s goal is to move people from one space to another, with as few movements as possible. The perfect web UX is exactly one click.

When people use a website, they move their eyes a lot and their hands a little.

The phone flips all that around. The display is tiny. Your finger is right on top of all of it and there is no cursor to swing around it. Network responses happen asynchronously and transitions are instantaneous. You spend most of your time in transition between points on a line, instead of continuously reorienting yourself to a series of spaces. The perfect app UX is an infinite series of swipes.

When people use an app, they move their eyes not at all but their fingers are constantly in motion.

My web UX habits are reflected in my UX artifacts. Wireframes and flow diagrams and comps. Static. Snapshots.

These might not be the best possible artifacts for reproducing a good mobile experience.