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Mobile UIs – Design Points for SAP Mobile Apps

November 11, 2011

We are involved in many discussions with clients around creating great digital user experiences. And lately, those conversations heave really heated up around creating great Mobile UIs.

The rise in mobility is clearly taking the world by storm. iPhones, Droids, HTCs, iPads – seems like they are everywhere and everyone wants one. And enterprise businesses are jumping on board too. One of the key themes that customers want is to parlay their brand and web experience into their mobile experience as well. After all, a company who has realized the importance of their web-based digital offerings and has invested in its success is also likely to invest even more into their mobile solutions.

A key question customers ask – “Can our Mobile App maintain our brand and be customized to meet our users needs?” The answer is yes – and that’s what it needs to be. One thing is for certain, a great mobile UI is often the tipping point for adoption and success in the world of mobile apps.

And it’s no different for SAP.

I’ve talked a lot in the past about how out of the box UIs miss the mark, and this holds true more so in the mobile world than ever before. People have come to expect anything and everything from their smartphones and mobile devices – it may well be an understatement. So, clearly, with such a high expectation level emanating from customers and their customers customers, a good mobile app clearly creates a competitive advantage in what is becoming a crowded marketplace. So, just like the web was 10 years ago, mobility is now the next big thing.

Companies need to find a way to stand out, and ensure their mobile solutions maintain their brand, create adoption in their user base, and gives them a competitive advantage. Easier said than done right? As I think about what lies ahead, I can’t help but think about SAP jumping into the mobile pond and what this means. SAP Mobility has the potential to reach more customers in a shorter amount of time than perhaps all their other products combined. Of course this is opinion, but at this rate of mobile popularity, its quite possible. So touching 1 Billion+ people is not so crazy after all and mobile apps just might do the trick. But they need to be great and make a statement – and one way is to focus on creating apps with great UIs that make people forget about “complicated and difficult” and start thinking “easy and fast.”  Creating a great mobile app depends on many things, but in this blog let’s focus on 5 key mobile user experience design points to consider in producing a great SAP Mobile App.

With mobile UI’s, all the typical UX design principles come into play: user research, wireframes, mockups, prototypes, and focus groups to mention a few. They’re tried and true methodologies, and the resulting time spent on these will yield good results in your design. Trust them – they’ll serve you well. And clearly the best mobile apps are the ones that truly focus on their UI – and here’s a good checklist to guide the design process – it’s the one we’ve used for mobile development:

  • Focus on the user
  • Make the right things visible
  • Show proper feedback
  • Be predictable
  • Be fault tolerant

Focus on the User

The key point here, first and foremost, is to really know your users. Its very interesting, but many times we’ll ask one simple question when working to design a mobile app – who are your users?. And if there’s 10 people in the room, there’s usually 10 different answers. This is critical to guiding the design process. Simply creating an app, and then putting a “wrapper” around it to get it to run on a different mobile operating system is not the answer. You need to understand things like age, skill level, culture, disabilities, etc. Of course you’ll need to understand what they want to do with the app, what kind of device the’ll be using, and where, when, and how they’ll be using the device. In knowing your users, you’ll start to design apps from a “user-first” mentality. It will become clear that users are generally task-driven, so design around tasks. And since most SAP Mobile apps are *very* task driven, it seems like a natural fit for the mobile setting. Take advantage of it.

But maybe the best way to focus on the user is to test your concepts, prototypes and dynamic app on real users – early and often. We’ve found this approach yields high-fidelity data that above all else, increases mobile app adoption.

MAKE THE RIGHT THINGS VISIBLE

What I mean by this is that with mobile apps, the most common operations should be immediately visible and available. Secondary functionality can be reserved for the menu button or the menu bar. Typically this may be the main navigation point. Looking at the example below, the splash screen clearly indicates what the app is all about and the user doesn’t have to hunt around for tasks. The main nav is also there for secondary actions to be taken throughout the UI experience.

SHOW PROPER FEEDBACK

All elements in your app should show at least 4 states of context. Here’s an example within the Android OS for default, disabled, focused, and pressed.

While showing state is key before an action (like a finger tap), its also important to make sure the effects of an action are clear and visible.Users should be able to know what’s going to happen, should they do something. Make it easy to see. The other key point we typically design for is showing progress to the user. Below is a good example of how to portray that.

We are an impatient society, and in the mobile world, you can multiply that by 100. Users want easy and fast, but they also want to know “when”. So show status indicators – but remember to make them adequate yet unobtrusive.

BE PREDICTABLE

This is a tricky one, but at the same time it may be the easiest principle to abide by. The best mobile UI’s need to “act” the way the user expects. We’ve done a lot of usability tests where users say things like “I would expect this” or “I would have expected that.” Make your UIs anticipate what most users expect to happen.

A good example here would be if something is clickable, make sure it looks clickable! Have you ever noticed someone with an iPhone feverishly tapping? Most likely lot’s of UI elements that look clickable, but really aren’t. Frustrating. The biggest point here is that if complex instructions are required, rethink the design. Remember, users want easy and fast. They expect it. Just like there’s no “I” in team, there’s no “complex” in easy and fast.

BE FAULT TOLERANT

To quote Donald Norman in “The Design of Everyday Things”, if an error is possible, someone will make it. So to that point, be sure to disable any UI elements where it makes sense. Only use operations that are appropriate in context of where the user is in the application. One way is to reduce the amount of modal dialogues that are used, since they are obtrusive.

So the important thing to keep in mind when designing mobile UIs, especially SAP mobile apps, is that it’s still about people, not devices. Sure, we all know the buzz around iPad, iPhone, and Droid as devices, but what gets lost in the fray is that these devices are just the starting point to build an engaging, immersive experience from. It’s the people, the users, who make it come alive.

And we can help you build that experience for your users.

We’ve all heard the phrase “There’s an app for that” – right? It’s become so common that its become easy pickings for the top spoofs on the web – further proof that expectations of mobile apps has grown so high, that people are spoofing the very concept of “any app for anything.”  

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GGAAsbgxAMA]

0 responses to “Mobile UIs – Design Points for SAP Mobile Apps”

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