Making Your Mobile App a User Success Story – Part 1

Maslow600Over the next several weeks I’m going to be looking at what a mobile app needs to do to meet our human needs according to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Maslow developed a theory of human motivation by studying who he considered to be exemplary people. This group included Albert Einstein, Jane Addams, Eleanor Roosevelt and Frederick Douglass. He felt the study of mentally ill or neurotic people would yield a crippled psychology and crippled philosophy.

We’re going to take the pyramid one level at a time, starting with Physiological. Physiological needs are the most basic needs humans require to survive. This includes breathing, food, water, procreation and sleep.

Basic Need #1: The Mobile Phone and Understanding Your User

Let’s start with the most basic need. First and foremost, our mobile phones have become a basic need to survive. According to PewResearch study in January 2014, 90 percent of American adults own cell phones and 58 percent own smartphones. Why do we own them? Mobile phones make our lives easier. It makes it easier to stay in touch, plan and schedule our daily routines, gives us something to do while we’re sitting in traffic or waiting in line and, on occasion, helps us out in times of emergency. We are seeing a growing trend of adults and children with mobile-only access to phones.


Many people say that we’re addicted to mobile phones. 84 percent of people worldwide say they could not go a single day without their mobile device in their hands. People feel panicked, desperate and sick when their phone is misplaced. According to Lookout, only 6 percent feel relieved when they cannot find their phone. These are basic, instinctual emotions.

Think about the phantom alert. Have you ever found yourself checking your phone for a message, alert or call and there is none? Have you ever thought you heard your phone ring or felt it vibrate only to find nothing there? It’s the phantom. You are not alone. We are so connected that 67 percent of us have done this according to PewResearch.

Qualcomm conducted a survey to find out how mobile users connect to their mobile devices throughout the day. The mobile phone is the first and last thing people look at each day in 29 percent of the people. 37 percent of people check their mobile device every 30 minutes or less. We take it to lunch to do work and ask people on dates. We multitask while we drive a car, play with children, watch TV and eat at a restaurant.

Continually, we are spending more and more time on our mobile devices. Study after study show the increase. Motorola Mobility’s global consumer survey of 9,500 people showed that we watch more video in our bedroom on our mobile devices than television in ages 19-44. Flurry and Experian researched how much time we spend on our phones and came up with two completely different numbers. Flurry studied smartphones and tablets to find we spend an average of 127 minutes on the devices. Experian concluded we spend 58 minutes on smartphones. This compares to 168 minutes spent watching TV.

Now there are a few big factors that go into these numbers to make the different. Smartphones are generally bursts of time and we tend to spend longer time periods on tablets that were not included in Experian’s study. Flurry gathers their data from analytics built into the apps. Experian’s numbers came from a consumer panel in which many did not have a gaming app or Facebook on their phone.

Pew Internet & American Life Project Spring Tracking Survey 2013 found that as of May 2013, 63 percent of adult cell owners use their phone to go online. 34 percent of these users go online with their mobile device more than their desktop or laptop computer.

We talk about mobile phone addiction, but is it? Let’s look at two different demographics for a minute. Let’s compare young adults versus the over 50 group. Both actually make about the same number of phone calls, less than 10 each day. Texting is where communication becomes very different. The over 50 group is forced to text because of their grandchildren but 80 percent send/receive fewer than 10 text each day. Young adults send text like their breathing. It’s the primary and preferred method of communication. They find it acceptable during dinner, in line at a store, in church, intimate situations and having coffee with a friend.

This isn’t addiction though. It is the new norm for social interaction. People revolted with Internet and email. They felt it was the alienation of society, that we would become hermits and reclusive. However, it allowed us to keep up with friends and loved ones across the globe in a way that was impossible before. We now have instant access to pictures and posts and can share in their life. With mobile, it became instantaneous. No more waiting to get home to download pictures or get an Internet connection to send an email to someone. This is the new way to engage for young adults.


Much of this, you may already know. So why am I going over it again in the Basic Needs? Because you must have a thorough understanding of your users. If you don’t understand that the mobile phone is the most personal item they own, you’ve missed the boat. It is an honor to be with them 24/7, when they sleep, eat, go to work. If you have an app on their phone, you have a personal connection to the user.


Basic Need #2: User Experience/User Interface (UX/UI) – Design

So, if the mobile phone is like breathing to us, UX/UI must be like eating. Sometimes we do it without thinking. Most of the time, it should be that simple and that obvious. Other times, we savor it. It is a thing of beauty that gives us joy. However, when done wrong, it leaves a very bad taste in our mouth.

ui-sampleUnlike the book, this is where you sweat the small stuff! Every detail, every pixel matters. Efficiency and functionality must be first and foremost in your mind when considering each design element. Test the legs off the app. Don’t think for a minute that any minor function is “minor.” It could come back to bite you as you build new features. Apple has raised the aesthetic bar for all of us. Our apps must look and operate with style. If your competitor’s app looks more modern and sleek than yours, even if it isn’t as functional, they will generally win the war against you.

Less is more. Count the number of design elements on the screen. Now reduce that by 33 percent. Now reduce that by 33 percent again. There’s your starting point. You’re designing for small screens. Your graphics have to be pixel perfect. Even though the screens are small, they are very high resolution and the smallest artifacts will be seen. Don’t forget, we are using are thumbs and fingers while multitasking so make the buttons and fonts big and utilize icons when you can. Icons are generally the first thing users see when they open the app.

This is one place that it’s not cool to be too cool. Don’t add a bunch of elements just to be cool and show off what you can do. Apps are used in small microburst. They need to work quickly and efficiently. They must operate in a way that is familiar to the user. The users must be able to navigate through the app with ease. Test it on a 4-year old. If the kid cannot use it without parental supervision, you’ve made the app too difficult to use. Reduce the learning curve so the user can dig into the app intuitively and quickly. Don’t make the user think!

Think about how and where they users are going to be using the app. Will they need two hands? Will they have one hand unavailable while carrying shopping bags? Depending on how they use the phone and what environment they are in determines the sweet spot for navigation. Don’t think that just because there are only 10 percent of the population that are left-handed that a decent percentage of right-handed people use their left to handle the phone.

Explore your app in the wild. Get out from behind the desk and computer screen and watch people using it. Notice where they are most comfortable getting to the most often used parts of the app. Are all your features in the right place to make it easy on the user? If not, rethink the design and navigation scheme. You have one shot at this.


The next post will explore the safety level of human needs in mobile apps. How are you going to make your users feel secure when using your product?


Until next time, thanks for reading and send me your comments. I’d love to hear from you.