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Behavior Change as Value Proposition


by chris risdon 0 Comments


There’s a lot of academic research around the areas of persuasive technology and design for behavior change. It’s getting more exposure as technology has allowed products and services to have an increasingly pervasive role in people’s lives.

But where does persuasion live? How do we recognize these products in the wild? And what has caused the tipping point for the growth of these products and services?

Data, Feedback, and Smart Products

The primary characteristic of our new, pervasively connected world is the ability to collect data passively (think Runkeeper or or with minimal effort required (Foursquare). And not just collect the data, but present it back—via feedback loops and visualizations—in a meaningful way to the user. These are smart products that have personalized intelligence about our behavior.

We can see lots of examples of products that don’t utilize data that are designed to influence behavior. These are “dumb products.” Which doesn’t mean that they’re dumb in the derisive sense, but products that contain no intelligence about the person who uses them. Take for example the oft-cited bitter nail polish that’s designed to keep people from biting their nails. It’s a good example of persuasive design. But it contains one single universal feedback loop for every person who uses it—the bitterness you taste when you bite your nails.
But now we have an explosion of smart products, which passively collect data about you and your specific behavior, and tell you a story which is designed to directly influence you. This is a byproduct of our Internet of Things progress—now even our toothbrushes and dog leashes can be outfitted with sensors to collect data about our personal behavior. Now that sensors are available at the consumer level—GPS, accelerometers, RFID—anything can become a data-collecting smart product.
I refer to this wave of products and services as “Behavior Change as Value Proposition.” These are products that have an explicit or implicit value proposition based on influencing your behavior. They’ve been around for a long time: smoking cessation and weight lose programs just to name a couple. But these highly personal solutions are exponentially enabled thanks to sensor technology.

Telling Stories with Data

We’ve been telling stories and layering in context with data forever. One of the more famous examples, championed by Edward Tufte, shows Charles Minard’s map of Napoleon’s 1812 march into Russia. It layers geographic data, chronological data, quantity (of soldiers), temperature over time, and more. The data tells a rich visual story, which of course could influence behavior. But the feedback loop is, of course, after the fact, and the data collection was likely rigorous and time-consuming. (you can imagine now how this information is collected in real-time and influences military campaigns in real-time)

Where Persuasion Lives

Where do these new products and services map on our landscape of products and services?
Let’s look at a spectrum, where on one end you have utility: something designed to offer the user useful tools, typically to manage information. On the other end is “persuasion” the idea that what is designed is intended to influence the behavior, perception or attitude of the user. Clearly it’s not binary. It’s plotting on the spectrum is based on the intent of the designer and the value to the consumer.
You can imagine the traditional utility application. (quadrant #1) Gmail helps you manage your email. iTunes lets you manage your music files. Flickr your images. Basecamp for project management. They’re designed—to various extents—to enable you to manage information, or “digital objects,” with a certain amount  of flexibility. Sort how you want, list how you want, tag how you want, equalize how you want, group how you want, share how you want, etc.
At their core, they’re value propositions as utilities designed to make your life easier. Some more configurable, others more constrained, but utilities nonetheless.
But what about this new wave of products? (quadrant #2) Products not designed around your digital “things” but around your behaviors? Products that are designed to influence. We see products like, Nike+ and Runkeeper; Weight Watchers and NutriSystem; Nest for energy consumption. This is just a small sampling of products where the value proposition is directly related to your behavior. They have high “awareness of intent” because of their declared value propositions relating to influencing your behavior. The intent is key. They balance persuasion in the interest of the customer.
(Regarding quadrant #3, persuasion of someone strictly in your own benefit or self-interest is manipulation. Not declaring your intent, and particularly concealing it, is deception. Clearly when a service seeks to hide it’s intent, and/or persuade strictly for it’s own self-interest, you are in the ethical muck.)
All these are based on collecting data and providing feedback loops. They turn data into information, which tells a story, which in turn, influences how you make decisions and act on the knowledge.
Imagine how you got feedback on your finances 20+ years ago. You had to manually enter your transactions into your check register (in research terms, it required you to self report your purchases). This was unreliable, and your feedback loop was a (less than accurate) balance, and a scannable list of your transactions. It’s hard to tell a story with any meaning, beyond simply how much you had in your account.
Then came spreadsheets, which made some of the work easier, doing the adding and subtracting and allowing you to more easily scan these transactions over time. But it was still manual reporting and didn’t present a story which had a lot of meaning or richness.
In the 90s we got Microsoft Money and Intuit’s Quicken, they initially still required manual entry—self reporting—but now they did the heavy lifting with the feedback loops, allowing you to visualize your data in a number of ways over time, telling a rich story from your raw data. This made it more effective in influencing behaviors around your finances, saving and spending.
Now we have applications like, which—once you hand over your log-in credentials—collects your financial behavior data completely passively and accurately, telling a rich story about your finances over time through visualizations, as well as other feedback loops such as alerts and product recommendations. We’ve gone from utilities that had a relatively neutral intent to manage your information to an application that wanted to make that information more actionable, influencing your future behavior based on visualized feedback.

Scaling Self-determination, Pushing Persuasion

Services like are still at the surface a utility (manage your financial data), with an implicit intent to influence your behavior around your finances (set goals, spend smarter). You still have a lot of self-determination with regards to how you harness your information to influence your behavior.
But more and more products are having an explicit influence, with a more prescriptive way to use them. They require you to increasingly relinquish self-determination as a prerequisite for use. Consider Ready for Zero, a service that helps you reduce your debt and curb your spending. While someone who uses the service opts in to use it, the service is basically a “tunnel” or wizard (guided persuasion), with limited options to what’s prescribed by the system. This makes the product more niche than a service like, but it will have a more direct, measurable impact on your behavior, which many people are seeking.
It will be interesting to see how far these products and services go. There’s an increasing demand for services that further constrain choices and self-determination in order to see tangible results. And how businesses balance applying behavior design principles in a way that provides them sustainable business models while maintaining explicit consumer value will be a critical challenge. Even services that use incentives, at their core, require intrinsic motivation to engage with them (the internal motivation to use them, in contrast to an external incentive like a financial reward).
Most people know that the Amazon One-Click feature is designed to influence you to purchase more, even if it also has consumer value in making your purchase easier. While there is an awareness that we are being influenced with these products, actually asking for this influence in our lives, as we become familiar with the principles, patterns and heuristics, will these techniques continue to be effective? At some point the customer will know exactly what terms such as “social proof” mean. The question is, when that happens, will it still be persuasive? Like many things that seem mysterious in the beginning, consumers eventually end up paying attention to the man behind the curtain.


This entry was posted on Thursday, April 19, 2012 at 3:34 pm.

There’s a further extreme, in helping manage destructive behaviours using proven scientific techniques for encouraging behaviour change, such as CBT. A relatively new web app for solving sleep problems called launched this year, using many of the digital and modern techniques seen in apps like Mint, or leveraging community/peer support, to cure health issues. Tools like Sleepio have been published in medical journals, so I can only assume its a matter of time before health practitioners start using persuasive apps as a matter of course for a range of issues: insomnia, smoking, weight loss, anxiety, violent behaviour.



UX Strategy as told by the paintings of Jan Steen


Design-House Notion have pieced together a puzzle that they believe is the next wave in Social TV. The Meta Mirror is a concept, a culmination of one design house’s passion in the Digital Home space and how they see TV becoming social… There is an ongoing debate as to whether media in the living room should be powered by the internet – using ever increasing speeds to feed rich HD content, or instead by the existing television infrastructure – already omnipresent in homes around the world. Yet, this debate focuses on technology, and in doing so neglects the most important aspect of the television experience, the viewer. It is this stakeholder, the protaganist in the act of television watching, who we must represent as designers.

So let’s hear the pitch…

Our recent activities in this space have given us a wide-angle view of the television watching experience. Analysing new technologies, behaviors and viewer expectations, has allowed us to identify new opportunities. When these opportunities are filled by products which enhance the viewers experience rather than interrupting it, we get one step closer to truly next-generation television.


What is happening in this picture??

In many ways the argument regarding what technology drives the future living room is irrelevant. It is unlikely, given the behaviors that now permeate these environments, that any one infrastructure is going to monopolize the provision of content.

Looking at this image, mindful of the fact that this scene is now synonymous with contemporary television watching, should help us to highlight some key behavioral observations:

TV is a communal experience.
The paradigm of communally viewing a single event is and always has been central to the TV viewing experience. The 10 foot distance is how the experience is defined. The audience regard the image from a distance.

Web is a personal experience.
In opposition to TV, our experience of the web is very personal. It is is all about tailored interactions. Favourites, avatars and comments all define identity and choice.

TV screens are getting crowded.
In a race to flood us with content, broadcasters are giving less and less real estate to the actual programme in question. Major sports games are overlayed with statistics & scores, while exchange rates and breaking news headlines all compete for space on any given news channel.

Television drives internet behavior.
It is a broadcasters prerogative to drive traffic to their own websites. URLs are now commonplace both during and after every piece of programming. In combination with the multiple devices now present, this introduces a very direct path from programme to further content.

TV is being supplemented.
We have become accustomed to two-way interaction with our devices. The television is by nature, one-way. The behaviors listed above supplement this uni-directionality, increasing the levels of interaction between user and content.

What are the converging technologies??

Running in parallel with these behavioral changes is a series of technological developments, some of which have reached viewers, some of which are imminent.

Often hypothesized about but quickly becoming a reality is Internet Protocal Television, IPTV. GoogleTV have entered the market and will undoubtetly bring this technology, facilitating searchable on-demand programming, to the masses. It is estimated that IPTV will hit 68 million households worldwide by 2014 (Source: Strategy Analytics).

Capacitative (touch sensitive) surfaces, now evident on even the cheapest of devices, have reached ubiquity.

Optical fibres, already becoming commonplace in mainland Europe, are in some cases facilitating 1GB download speeds directly into homes. Rich, full quality HD content is fully enabled.

It’s fair to say that RSS and XML feeds are the backbone of the internet.

This frames the television viewing experience as it currently exists in terms of both the user and the various technologies involved. It’s through this familiarisation and analysis that new opportunities can be mapped – opportunities which are grounded in real user needs. MetaMirror is our response to these needs.


Meta Mirror

So, what is it??

Meta-Mirror is a concept application that delivers an enhanced television experience without disrupting the conventional expectations of home entertainment. It allows viewers to access content relevant to the program currently being viewed.

The product is a software platform which runs on a secondary device of the users choice, displaying this contextual content over a mirror of the television broadcast. By bringing together live television, real-time contextual information and an intuitive user interface, Meta Mirror is positioned to update television from uni-directional broadcast to two-way interaction. Three scenarios explain how this can happen:

For sports the main screen is dedicated to the game/match in question. Real time statistics of the game, together with twitter updates and other scores of the viewers choice are all overlayed on the device running MetaMirror. In addition, new forms of online betting / merchandising / purchasing are enabled.

In lifestyle programming tagged objects, in this case ingredients, become clickable. This in combination with 3rd party supermarket plugins makes putting together shopping baskets simple.

Music broadcasts are enriched by track names, album details and further artist information. Direct links to iTunes, Ticketmaster, Wikipedia and broadcasters music websites allow viewers to delve further into the music on screen. Assmart object recognition becomes more commonplace, instruments are tagged automatically.


Meta Mirror’s innovation is in bringing together as yet unconnected facets of our digital content experience. It creates a contextual access point to web data from TV viewing. No one has created a meta overlay on a live program on a separate device. There is further innovation in how it delivers the experience to the user. By using a secondary device, Meta Mirror does not clutter the primary screen and enables personalized interaction with the service.


The immediate enhancements are obvious. A wealth of related content is brought closer to users, who are otherwise trawling online in a manner which is influenced by television, but still fundamentally disconnected. At the same time the primary viewing experience is refreshed, cleared from on-screen clutter. As we mentioned already, the traditionally uni-directional activity of watching TV is suddenly much more interactive.

Alongside these immediate user benefits is a wealth of potential for 3rd parties, advertisers and service providers. As Youtube continues to implement pre-roll ads it begs the question, is this traditional disruptive advertising technique still relevant to on-demand video services? Or more to the point – why are we trying to marry old disciplines with new technology?

MetaMirror has the potential to combine tagged video objects with new forms of advertising, generating revenue for 3rd parties in a way which is more attractive to viewers and altogether more seamless. We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, but surely this is next-generation television marketing?


For all the developments in TV technology from HD to IPTV the industry seems myopic. It believes that bringing the power of the web to TV means the abilty to search for more content.

Meta-Mirror is a concept based on joining the dots between the organic way in which television-watching behaviors have developed, and the technologies which are permeating the industry. It challenges the status quo of traditional television advertising, creating new opportunities for next-generation product placement and targeted, relevant marketing. At the same time it enriches the viewers experience of watching TV. Overall, it enhances rather than interrupts.

If you would like to know more of the story behind MetaMirror, feel free to get in touch, or leave a comment below.

3 Lessons For Any Startup From The Instagram Acquisition

The top story in tech in the last 24 hours is the acquisition of instagram by Facebook for $1 billion in cash or stock.  It seems like a rocket ship of a success story, from Stanford graduates to millionaires with over joyed investors in just a couple of years.  This made it a hot topic in the opening of our NUvention Web class today.  There is a temptation for students and entrepreneurs to read about Instagram and take some of the wrong lessons (the subject of the next post) from their rise; but in looking through their story, and what they’ve built, there are 3 clear lessons Mike Marasco and I came up with that any student or new startup should look at that indicate that instagram masterfully practiced:

Develop the simplest solution to the customer problem, then iterate on what resonates FAST

Instagram is a definite case of getting out of the building rather than having the single grand idea upfront and persisting.   At its founding in 2010, the initial idea  was for burbn, an app in the gowalla/foursquare vein (Instagram founder Kevin Systrom describes it in this interview starting at 16:30).   In textbook customer development fashion, the team learned a lot from developing this experience; in particular: First, html 5 was too slow relative to a native app and second the features users used most was sharing pictures.   So despite feeling like the space was crowded, the team pivoted to focus on photo applications.   Central to the Instagram principles, was the idea of building a very simple user interface to the application.  Simplicity is hard work from a design perspective, but reaps rewards downstream in two important ways:  First, in terms of minimizing the number of features developed; and second streamlining the user interface to the essential elements.   Some of this comes back to a principal that Chris Riesbeck, one of our faculty team for NUvention Web, describes as the “one button” application.   A one button application is a solution to your customer’s problem where the value proposition requires only one button.    This can also be about the hard computer science work.   Instagram focused on a key feature users always want—speed.

Build a cost effective method of customer acquisition and insure they are yours for keeps

If you look at the employee composition of Instagram, you will notice its mostly developers with a few community managers.   No big local sales force like groupon.   No one in business development to do deals.  Efficiently focused on building the sales mechanism into the product and having people understand and give feedback on the community.   The founders had great User experience and product management experience (in addition to technical experience).   Also, while the differentiated proposition was around the simple User Experience, streamlined upload and process, posting to mutliple social networks and filters to make photos look great; it created its social network from the get go.  In addition, the team did smart research to find the set of influencers that would love what they were doing by looking at who they wanted to reach as influencers in tech; as well as those people who would really be excited about the capabilities of the application (i.e. photographers with lots of twitter followers).   A good focus on continued PR coupled with great ways of capturing, keeping and referring customers was key.   Great execution can also not be underestimated either—the initial MVP was high quality enough that the influencers wanted to use it; and the team was manically focused on preventing any fail whale type of scenario that would cause customer dissatisfaction.  This meant the cost to get each incremental users was inexpensive after the features were in the system; and that a lot of money didn’t need to be spent on “support” to re-win them once the became disengaged or unsatisfied.

Leverage and focus on existing networks to bootstrap your own

While Instagram now has its own substantial network (27 million users according to the industry reports); The app didn’t work with just its own social network, rather it’s principal benefit was that it made it easy to post great photos to twitter (and facebook).   This meant that the application had value for the first person that used it—and not just making the photo look good; but sharing the way people wanted to share.   The other network Instagram focused on was iPhone users—and hear the focus was important.   The team didn’t try to boil the ocean but until very recently stayed manically focused onApple iPhone—even to the extent that the web experience is minimalist compared to what’s in the iPhone app.  iOS was the right choice for two reasons: It had the largest consistent platform at the time of launch and the gaps in the built-in photo experience fit well with the advantages of instagram (better photos, multi social net connection).   The focus on iPhone also let the team keep performance for the user and simplicity of the experience at the center of what they did.

Sears’ PHD Of Social Media Explains How Brands Can Create Orbits To Pull In Customers


Mark Bonchek, SVP of Communities and Networks for Sears Holdings, has been a pioneer in social engagement since the 1990s when he received the first Ph.D. granted by Harvard on the subject of social media. Since then he has worked with organizations ranging from IBM to The Economist to the U.S. Department of Education. His current focus is the transformation of Sears as an integrated retailer and social enterprise.

Brandon Gutman: Mark, there’s a lot of talk these days about social media. Is it just a lot of hype, or is there really something revolutionary going on?

Mark Bonchek: There is something revolutionary going on, but not in the way people often think. This is about a lot more than generating Likes on Facebook and followers on Twitter. We are in the midst of a fundamental shift from mass communication to mass collaboration. This is the first time in our history that we can work together on a global scale. This type of communication revolution doesn’t happen very often. The last one was Gutenberg’s printing press over 500 years ago. Gutenberg democratized information, enabling mass communication to an audience. Radio, newspapers, and television were variations on this theme. With social technologies, we are not only consumers of information, but producers and co-creators.  This democratization of collaboration and creation is the real social revolution.

How well are companies adapting to this social revolution?

Most companies are still stuck in old ways of thinking. But you really can’t blame them. It took three hundred years for Gutenberg’s revolution to play out. The democratization of information led to the Renaissance, the Scientific Revolution, and eventually the Industrial Revolution. This in turn led to the modern corporation as we know it. At this point, we are only about a decade into the social revolution, and it will take a while to adjust our mental models from audiences to communities and re-design our institutions from hierarchies to networks.

What does this mean for brands and marketing?

In the past, brands could control the message. But not any more. Marketing has become like a political campaign. Every message gets thrown into the social spin cycle. This is a big change for marketers trained in traditional advertising, with its focus on segments and channels. Marketing is now more about sociology than psychology. Brands need to focus on the social context of their customers’ lives. Do they create a sense of social identity? Can they create social currencies that help customers connect with each other?




How is this changing the relationship between brands and customers?

The relationship is becoming more peer-to-peer. You can see this on Facebook. With the latest changes, brand pages look a lot like personal pages. As brands become more like peers, they need to behave more like people:  personal, reciprocal, and authentic.  It’s the difference between being a speaker on a stage and the host of a dinner party. A good host doesn’t lecture or talk too much about themselves. They focus on sparking the conversation and connecting people. They keep the party buzzing. A social brand does the same for its community.

At the last Brand Innovators Summit, you created some buzz yourself with the concept of customer orbits. Can you elaborate?

In a social age, people don’t like to be pushed. Brands need to find creative ways to attract customers. Imagine a solar system with your brand at the center. Just as gravity keeps planets in orbit around the sun, companies can create gravitational fields to keep customers in orbit around their brand. This gravitational field is not about advertising. It’s about creating real value that goes beyond the products you sell. Some examples include Google’s search engine, Apple’s iTunes software, and Nike’s FuelBand. These are gravity generators that deliver high-frequency, high-value interactions.

How do you create this kind of gravitational field to pull in customers?

First, start with the 3 P’s: Purpose, Platforms, and Partners. Find a shared Purpose around which you can deliver services that create value for your customer. Then create an engagement Platform to deliver that value. Social networks and mobile technologies make it possible to create these platforms with incredible ease. There are many sources of value around which to build your engagement platform. The most common are content, conversation, collaboration, contribution, and commerce. Finally, look for collaborative Partners who can bring additional credibility, resources, or reach.




How is Sears putting these ideas into practice?

We start by recognizing that social technologies are fundamentally transforming retail. Our customers want to shop anytime, anywhere. It is no longer about choosing between shopping online or shopping in the store; it is increasingly about both. We therefore must deliver an integrated retail experience across all channels. But this is only table stakes in the new world of retail. We must evolve beyond a transactional relationship with our customers to a social experience that is personal, engaging and rewarding.

As an example, our FitStudio community is build around our market-leading position in fitness equipment. In our stores, interactive technologies and expert consultants help customers find the right equipment. Online, the FitStudio community helps people achieve their fitness and weight loss goals. As an orbit strategy, FitStudio combines shared purpose (fitness), engagement platforms (store and online community), and collaborative partners (trainers and wellness experts).

Do these ideas apply to smaller companies? If so, how should they get started?

Remember that social is about building human relationships. Take an inventory of your social assets (knowledge, values, and relationships) and look for ways of creating social currencies (things people can share). Also keep in mind what each type of social technology is good for. Facebook is about conversation. Think about what your customers like to talk about, and about which you have something to contribute to the conversation. Twitter is about notification. What do your customers want to be informed about related to your business? As an example, a restaurant might put out a daily Tweet with the daily special, and create a Facebook page where they post favorite recipes or items they are considering adding to the menu. In general, there are lots of places to start. The key is to be less transactional and more human, and do less pushing and more pulling.

Follow Brandon on Twitter at

Find more of my content about brand leaders at

Designing a Mobile App? Don’t Make These 10 Mistakes

The Mobile App Trends Series is presented by Sourcebits, a leading product developer for mobile platforms. Sourcebits offers design and development services for iOS, Android, Mobile and Web platforms. Follow Sourcebits on Twitter for recent news and updates.

So you’ve already learned how to navigate the tricky world of cross-platform app design and worked through all of the common pitfalls of developing your app. You have a vision, some inspiration and maybe even a name that you know will be perfect. So … now what?

[More from Mashable: How the #BullyMovie Twitter Campaign Triumphed Over the MPAA]

It’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty and begin designing the structure, flow and features that will combine to form your finished mobile app. But actually performing these tasks isn’t easy — there are tons of moving parts and project management aspects to keep in mind during development. Developing a functioning and enjoyable mobile app requires discipline and practicality. If you don’t tend to the nuts and bolts of production, you’re putting yourself at risk for disaster.

These mobile design “don’ts” will help any mobile designer avoid some messy obstacles, so make sure to keep them in mind. Your app — and your sanity — will thank you for it.

[More from Mashable: Instagram Rockets to No. 1 in App Store in Wake of Facebook Deal]

1. Don’t Begin Wireframes or Designs Without a Flowmap



Have a well-thought-out user flow ready to go before wireframes and designs begin. Even simple applications should have a well-considered flowmap in place to help ensure a logical and reasonable navigational structure.

Another thing to pay attention to is making sure that key functional screens are close to the top rather than buried beneath multiple levels of navigational elements. Skipping the flowmap and simply designing or wiring screens without a plan is the easiest way to create a convoluted flow that leaves users confused and turned off.

2. Don’t Disregard the Development Budget

Everything a designer creates will have to go through a developer in order to bring those designs to life. Sometimes very simple design changes can make the difference between a feature that takes a few hours to build and one that takes a few days. Be weary of over-defining functionality in the design.

In other words, the design should not dictate the functionality. For example, an app might have been planned to have a search box, one the designer envisions with a type-ahead search that generates live results as the user types. But this can be a significant developmental undertaking to properly implement, and the designer should not be the sole decision-maker for such a significant element.

3. Don’t Start With Low Resolutions & Avoid Bitmaps

Always design for retina, high-res, pixel-dense screens first, then scale down. This should be obvious to any serious designer but it’s still worth mentioning. As the number of common screen resolutionson mobile devices continues to expand (iOS alone has 4 different resolutions to worry about), always start with the highest resolution device and scale down from there. Even better: Design with vector graphics rather than scale-challenged bitmaps or rasterized graphics.

4. Don’t Undersize The Hit Area

Remember that most users’ index fingers are 1.6 to 2 cm wide. Take into account the width of a finger, plus the fact that users are moving quickly and aren’t able to reliably tap a tiny area of the screen. It’s all too easy to pack lots of buttons and functionality into a screen, but be sure to always make buttons big enough — and spaced enough — to be easily tapped by users.

5. Don’t Gratuitously Use Intro Animations

Those fun little animations when an app first opens can be really nice, but it’s important not to go overboard with them. The catch with intro animations (Path and Thrillist’s JackThreads have cool ones) is that they technically can’t begin until the app is already loaded. So in effect, they actually delay the user from accessing the app. If you’re going to use one, make it quick, subtle and appealing enough to be worth the extra second or so that the user has to wait.

As an app loads, a still image should display, which then transitions into an animation. Make sure the transition is seamless. Some poor implementations have a jump or glitch as the app transitions from the still loading image to the intro animation, and that’s no fun.

6. Don’t Leave Users Hanging

Leaving the user out of the loop when the app is loading or processing could cause users to think the app is malfunctioning. It’s also just a poor experience.

Don’t keep your users waiting on a blank screen while the app is loading content from the web. Use loading indicators and animations to give users a heads up that the app is working, but it’s just waiting on the phone or the network. A progress indicator is even better, but it’s worth checking with your developers or having a backup plan before designing them into the interface (per our second tip).

7. Don’t Blindly Copy Style From Other Operating Systems



Bad conversions from one mobile OS to another can confuse and annoy users. Every mobile OS has its own style and the OS’s creator has probably published detailed Human Interface Guidelines that have codified their unique aesthetic. iPhoneAndroid and Windows Phone 7 have very different aesthetics. For example, an app on the iPhone that uses the WP7’s block-layout and navigation style would be unfamiliar and confusing to users.

It’s not necessary to make every app look like it was built by the operating system’s creator, but be careful not to make the app look like it doesn’t belong on the platform.

8. Don’t Overstuff Pixel-Dense Screens

When designing for high PPI (pixel per inch) displays, there can be a temptation to fit more into an interface because you have more pixels to play with. This is especially true if you’re reviewing designs on an 27-inch high-res display, where even the most busy interfaces will have plenty of room to breathe. Remember to preview all your work on the actual device you’re designing for, even if it’s just a screengrab in the device’s photo viewer.

Overstuffing an interface can result in an app that’s cluttered and difficult to navigate. In the worst cases, critical parts of the interface may actually be downright impossible to see.

9. Don’t Assume Everyone Will Use Your App The Same Way You Do

Usability testing is a must, no matter how good your app looks. Consider organizing a closed beta to small group of trusted people (including a few experienced designers) and update the interface before releasing the app to the public.

Another easy way to get some decent feedback on the cheap is to put up a Craigslist ad for a testing focus group. Target college students who would be willing to come in and play around with a pre-release app in exchange for a few bucks and some pizza.

10. Don’t Forget About Gestures, But Don’t Abuse Them Either

Keep in mind that not every single element of the interface has to be fully visible or easy to get to immediately.

A great example is the deletion process in the Mail app for iPhone. In the inbox view, a user can swipe a message to reveal a delete button. This is a shortcut that saves the user the hassle of tapping “edit,” selecting a message to delete and then tapping delete. But it’s a balance: The “delete” shortcut is a way to quickly remove an email, while the “edit” menu is reserved for those who don’t know about the shortcut or who want to take advanced actions such as deleting or flagging multiple messages at a time.

In other words, keep gestures in mind, but don’t become overly reliant on them. And generally avoid using a gesture-accessed menu or action as the only point of access.


If there’s a single unifying element to all these design faux pas, it’s that the best designs are carefully considered. It comes down to thinking critically and completely about your methods. Really think through what your users are trying to achieve and let that inform your designs. Don’t cut corners, don’t skip testing and don’t create designs that you wouldn’t put in your portfolio or use yourself.

Have you built a mobile app before and have some tips on what not to do? Let us know in the comments.

Series supported by Sourcebits





The Mobile App Trends Series is presented by Sourcebits, a leading developer of applications and games for all major mobile platforms. Sourcebits has engineered over 200 apps to date, with plenty more to come. Sourcebits offers design and development services for iPhoneAndroid and more. Please feel free to get in touch with us to find out how we can help your app stand apart in a crowded marketplace. Follow Sourcebits on Twitter and Facebook for recent news and updates.

Image courtesy of iStockphotoTommyL

This story originally published on Mashable here.