Every app is competing with Facebook

Very few app producers or start–ups may recognise the fact, but far from offering a unique experience to users, their apps are vying for attention with the giants of digital – Facebook, Instagram, even Candy Crush.

Any app that manages to make its way on to a user’s device automatically becomes a direct competitor to dozens of other apps, all within a thumb’s reach and all with the potential to use up those few minutes that the user has to spare at that point in time.

Combined with research that tell us apps feature an abandonment rate of around 95% overall, and that 1 in 5 apps are used only once, this is chilling stuff for any app producer. So while the user’s decision to download an app remains a landmark moment, the battle for engagement has only just begun.

Some months ago Vibhu Norby, founder of start–up EveryMe, wore his heart on his sleeve in a blog post, letting the world in on adoption rates for the app that had to date secured $3.6m in funding. Those of a nervous disposition may want to sit down for the next part:

• From over 300,000 downloads of the EveryMe app, 200,000 people signed up to use the service.
• A requirement for a phone number or email address saw 25% abandon the app.
• A further (optional) step to sign in via a social network saw a further 25% leave the process.
• Just less than 25% didn’t create a social group within the app
• Finally, another 25% failed to add anyone to the group they created

The net result was that EveryMe retained around 5% of users through the entire on–boarding process, by all accounts a common story even with apps that have firmly established themselves over time.

The challenge for EveryMe, indeed for every other app on the market, is simply to build something that people want to use. Before app producers get close to design of any sort answers to the following questions should be clear: firstly, “What problem are we solving?”, and subsequently, “Are we building the right thing?”.

Solid research and user experience strategy goes a long way to providing answers to those questions, which should include getting a firm grasp on user motivation and intent. A lot has been made in the past of the idea of gamification and making apps and services more pleasurable to use. These principles tap directly into motivation theory, where ‘rewards’ (badges and user levels for example) are offered as extrinsic motivation for user interaction.

Stronger than this again is intrinsic motivation, where the drive to act (and interact) comes from within the individual. Take as an example the popularity of the ‘Couch to 5K’ system. The method of incrementally lengthening periods of running until a non–runner can comfortably cover a 5 kilometre distance has spawned dozens if not hundreds of apps, which consistently top the app download charts. Leveraging intrinsic motivation is one of the most effective ways to encourage engagement over the long term.

The secret to establishing motivation – extrinsic or intrinsic – and knowing which one to use, is to know your audience well enough to answer the fundamental questions: what are users trying to achieve and how are you facilitating those goals? A user’s time spent interacting with an app or a website is an investment on their part; they expect a return on that investment, whether that is in the form of a tangible return, say an item bought online, or through realised ambitions and goals achieved.

What motivations are you able to tap into for your app, website or application? What are users really trying to achieve, and how are you making it easier for them?

If these questions are not credibly answered, those thumbs will almost certainly drift towards the Facebook icon once again.

This post first appeared on the FATHOM_ blog.

Usability lab hack in Yosemite & iOS8

usability-hackIf your work involves usability testing, chances are you are constantly trying to refine and optimise your testing set up.

A recent usability study had us working in a DMZ, requiring the usability tests to take place in a specific location. No big deal there. It was however the first study we had run using iOS8 in this environment; and, as we learned on the morning of the first tests, iOS Safari currently won’t connect to a secure domain running through a proxy server.

The first sign of trouble was that UX Recorder – our mobile recording app of choice – wouldn’t load the secure domain, something we attributed initially to the app itself. As UX Recorder uses the default Safari browser, this meant that our tests couldn’t be recorded.

The easy (and obvious) answer to accessing the secure domain was to download Chrome on the iOS devices, which handles https protocols in a completely different manner. But UX Recorder – and therefore recording mobile activity – was no longer an option.

By complete chance, I had this blog post open in my laptop’s browser from a couple of days before (I am a hopeless tab opener-and-abandoner) and another piece of the answer fell into place. Quicktime in Yosemite allows an alternative video source – specifically an iOS8 device. By recording a connected  device through Quicktime, we had high quality footage of the device in action. And what’s more, we could watch it being used in realtime on another screen through screen sharing.

The final problem was front-facing camera footage of the user. By recording the screen through Silverback, with the Quicktime window in focus, we had the result we needed. Okay it’s not perfect; the camera isn’t looking right into the user’s face. If they sit slight out of kilter with the built in camera, or move a lot during the test, then we don’t see them quite as well. But then this already applies to desktop tests run in Silverback anyway, so no major loss there.

The problem we started out to solve was getting through a secure site through a proxy; what we ended up with is a new way to record user activity on Apple mobile devices, and one which will now be our go-to method.

Pros

It works  well, doesn’t slow down the iOS device, plus can give you a way to remote view the device activity through screen sharing.

Cons

No on-screen activity – clicks, taps etc. (the Quicktime feature to record clicks isn’t an option in this case)

This is going to be our method of choice going forward, hope it’s something you can use in your own testing.

N.B. For all this, it goes without saying that in a standard testing environment where no proxy is involved, using Safari is not an issue.

Design for Everything, Everywhere.

As occurs frequently on Twitter, I was able to enjoy a conversation between two prominent figures of the design industry as they exchanged insights. This one really made me sit up and take notice. I’ll reproduce it in full here, short and sweet as it is:

@trentwalton: Lines between mobile, tablet & everything else are beginning to overlap to the extent that the terms are becoming useless.

@lukew: wrist, palm, lap, desk, wall, mall sized screens. human ergonomics won’t change. devices will.
@lukew: as illustrated in: http://static.lukew.com/unified_device_design.png …

To save you a tap, click or cut n’paste, Luke Wroblewski’s graphic is reproduced below.

The new device landscape by @lukew

Any given day on Twitter yields a huge number of enlightening stats, info graphics and blog posts; frequently these will be stark reminders of how the device landscape is changing. Luke’s graphic however is a statement of fact – everything is changing.

Let’s just examine the message: device sizes, interactions, input devices and resolution are at once convergent and inconsistent. Add to the mix that context and location are unpredictable and it becomes clear that there is no convenient fallback. The desktop cliché, for instance, is now archaic.

Even the popular perception of responsive web design as a requirement to accommodate different viewport sizes must go. Our new reality affects (amongst other things) tap/click area, text size, image file size, colour palette, content length… Quite simply, it affects design decisions across the board.

There is no secret formula. The future of design on the web is designing for everything. Everywhere.