Mobiles are changing the very way we think – Part 2

Posted on March 21, 2014

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 [eds note: This post is too long,  so here it is in 15 words: Digital Natives and Immigrants are very different in how they use mobiles so design accordingly.]

In the previous entry on this subject we looked at how mobiles are changing the way we think.

In summary:
  • We are ever more reliant on external memory, provided by our devices and computers. Now we don’t need to remember everything, and instead rely on transactive techniques, that means we remember how to find something out, rather than remember it directly.  this means that our memories are enhanced and expanded by our devices.
  • We are are more able to be learned in more subjects because you can just “google it” and so the real skill is not plain knowledge, but being able to recognise real knowledge when you see it.
  • We are communicating differently, with more reliance on messaging rather than voice calls or face to face conversations.
  • We are organising things much nearer the time as the ubiquity of mobile messaging has made it very simple and (technically, at least) very reliable to send messages anywhere to anyone.
In some respects these changes are most apparent in those born in the mobile era, so called Mobile Natives,  and we see a lot of it in the Mobile Immigrants, and almost none in the Mobile Aliens.  (see how I stole the digitial natives etc from Mark Prensky)

So when we are designing applications that are being used by Mobile Natives or Immigrants then we should take these differences into account.

In an earlier post I reflected the teaching of Priya on Mental Models.  These are the models that we have in our brain, that guide our behaviour and expectations of the world around us, we have these models for almost everything we do, and of course are forming new ones around mobiles and their use, etiquette etc.
These guidelines are not rocket science, or new,  but we do need to remind ourselves about them, in particular if you are a business analyst, project manager or are commissioning an app,  because by thinking about these factors you can ensure the app you have built will be better received by the users.
Remove complexity, or intuitiveness if you prefer:
Make the information in your app easily found,  do not expect us to remember complex routes though the app.  The user is likely to have a short attention span,  and you may be one of many such apps vying for my attention,  so grab them quickly. All routes should be short cuts.
Make use of search or “search like” features to find things, the user uses google etc all the time, they are power search experts,  utilise that.
Because the user is not an expert in your app, or indeed at most things, provide them with worked examples and/or templates so that I can follow along, without having to be able to think it all out. Hold my hand,  lead the way.
All that sounds like I am saying the user is unable to cope,  but that’s not the case, it’s just that this app is one of a large collection of things that I have to deal with, and you get only one or two shots before they go elsewhere.
in short: gove me feedback, and point the way,  do not assume I know what I am doing, or that I understand the subject matter.
Frictionless
Hide unnecessary detail,  for example we used to remember many phone numbers,  not now,  so now there is no need to show the number if the users doesn’t ask for it.
Remember that I, the user, may need to communicate with people about events in the app (eg a question you want answered before you authorise payment, or accept an invite etc)  in which case make it easy to use messaging and notifications for any response.  This is because Natives will expect to use, and be comfortable with “asynchronous communications” (messaging to you and me), where as Immigrants may need a more interactive (more analogous to a face to face conversation) to feel comfortable.
Frictionless is about removing obstacles and unnecessary actions from the user.  For example Marc Rogers talks about why the fingerprint ID on an Apple 5S is OK, not perfect,  but a convenient and frictionless way of unlocking your phone.
NFC payments (you know where you just wave your card over the reader) are frictionless, because there is no faff with getting the card in the reader, entering the PIN and so on.
Inside your app consider the key activities and make them frictonless. All the usual rules for good web design practice apply here,  they are just way more important on phones and for tablets where the touch interface is still relatively new, and critical on smart watches and other wearable tech.
Mental Models
It is important that you try to understand what the user will be thinking when they use your app,  but also what their subconscious/experience will be expecting.
A simple example of a mental model would be for he act of reading,  for readers of European languages the user will scan the page/screen from top left to bottom right,  as that is how they were taught to read and how books etc are laid out.  So the mental model is to scan that in that direction.  So there is no point putting the starting point of a page/screen on the right, or at the bottom, because the user will look there last.
Think through other built in expectations the user might have, and then play to these, or know and act when you are deliberately breaking them.  This is good advise when you are trying to work out which metaphor to use in your UX / app because if the expectations are misaligned confusion, and poor usability will ensue.
So you may need to understand that the mental models are different between Natives and Immigrants and so you you’ll need to square that circle if you need a broad appeal
Cause and effect, or is that effect and cause
Make sure that when an effect happens the user can understand the cause, and that these are applied consistently.  When you live the life of a native, with many simultaneous ways of connecting and communicating, you become very used to dealing with several notifications and interruptions and many other things happening at once,  however an mobile immigrant would most likely want to have some way of ordering and compartmentalising these, in order to make sense of them.  In general you should be circumspect about when and how frequently you notify the user, as this is a delicate balance.
So in summary,  see ed’s note above,  hah!  bet you weren’t quite expecting that.
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Posted in: Apps, mobile