The 9 golden rules of mobile usability

Promatics Technologies
Published on Jan 31, 2018 in App Development
The 9 golden rules of mobile usability

Mobile usability is not a new word in the world of mobile apps. It refers to the concept of user-friendliness that the user experiences when using a mobile device for online services. The focus of mobile usability is to improve user experience on mobile devices despite technology limitations like small screen sizes and low processing power in comparison to computers like laptops and desktops. To get mobile usability right, you need to conduct a deep research to see how the mobile device is used and experienced by a group of targeted users.

Let’s take a deeper look at mobile usability research also known as usability testing.


Mobile usability research is primarily conducted to see how easy it is for users to use the mobile device and perform different actions. The mobile usability research is conducted with real users. In mobile usability research, users are asked to complete some tasks on their mobile devices while they are being observed by a mobility usability tester. The researcher especially focuses on knowing the problems encountered by users or any confusion while performing the actions. If a large number of users encounter similar problems, the mobile app developer is forwarded recommendations that are directed to overcome usability issues and make the user experience much smoother and rich for the end users.

While the usability research remains the same, you should not forget that mobile users do not stand still or sit while using their mobile devices. The mobile environment is vastly different from desktops and you need to be aware of the context and adapt the mobility research to take advantage.

Here are the 9 commandments of mobile usability that aim to take the user experience to the next level and increase the chances of success.

The 9 golden rules of mobile usability


The biggest mistake mobile app developers make while creating a mobile design is that they assume every user purchasing the device will use it in the same way or like they do. This assumption can be a fatal thing for the mobile app design. You should never go by your assumptions or gut feeling, no matter how strong it might be. Remember you are designing the app for end-users and not the ones like you.

The second mistake is taking all data from the prior research and assuming all is true. You need to understand the data collected from previously conducted research or secondary sources might not hold valid or true forever and may not describe the current scenario perfectly. Mobile technologies have evolved rapidly in recent years and so has the user behavior. An ongoing research is the safest bet to ensure the mobile design takes into considerations behavior of current mobile users.

Did you know there are six different ways to hold the mobile? Your target users may be holding the mobile in one or more different ways. For example, if you are designing a mobile app for elderly members searching and ordering their medication online, you need to understand the impairments that show up on the screen when the user holds a mobile device at a specific angle. As an app designer, you need to understand how the screen and its view is affected by the way you hold the mobile device.

You can also know more about your end-users through analytics. These tools can tell you what kind of devices your target users are using. You can also conduct a survey to find different activities they do on their mobile devices.


Understanding the context of use is on the same line as understanding the users. Mobile means moving freely and a large number of people are not 100% concentrated while moving and using their mobile device. If you look around, people use their mobile devices while running, eating at restaurants, working out, watching TV, driving or walking in a store.

As an app designer, you need to understand it is not only important to know which devices the target users use, but also how they use them. The design of the mobile app can affect the overall experience. For example, a running app will have different use cases than a banking app.

Understanding where the users use their mobile device and how they interact with the mobile app design will help app developers create efficient applications that will work for users in their everyday environment.


Did you know user mostly use their thumbs to navigate on their mobile devices? Hence the mobile app design should focus more on the use of thumbs than mouse clicks. The user should be able to reach any part of the screen with the thumb without stretching hands unnaturally. This is one of the primary reasons why responsive design gives so much importance to single column layout on mobile than multiple columns. Using multiple columns shrinks usable screen space and puts items on the screen out of thumbs reach leading to difficulty in access.


The placement of content on the screen is an important aspect in app design. According to expert mobile app designers, the content needs to appear above the controls so their visibility is never blocked when a user is performing any action on the screen. In traditional design, the menu is placed at the top and the content comes below. However, in mobile app design, the content is placed at the center of the screen and the navigation controls are placed at the bottom of the screen.


Touch is the primary input mode for a mobile device and hence the mobile app design needs to be precise for touch. However, the size of the thumb of every person is different, which makes the thumbs touch imprecise.

The optimal touch target calculated for mobile devices is 7x7m which roughly translates into 40 pixels. However, since mobile device screen size varies, the optimal touch target is 44 pixels. This allows the app designer to cover the ideal space and avoid error zones.


We, humans, are more familiar with some gestures and movements like pinch, swipe and flip, so the same needs to be replicated in mobile usability. However, you also need to pay attention to the laws of physics and motion. App designers need to also keep in mind response to the design and make sense to the gestures and movements.

For example, if the user swipes a card out off the screen, the movement of the card towards exiting the screen should appear proportionate to the force applied by the user on the screen. If the user has made a forceful swipe, the card should fly off fast, else it should creep slowly out of the screen. Microinteractions bring life to the mobile app and the context of touch adds to the enhancement of experience. App developers like Promatics have been working hard to replicate as much as possible real world movements in the apps and it has rewarded them as well.


The mobile screen has a limited space, which is not enough to display everything that you think it is important. Hence, you need to follow a progressive disclosure policy that provides the user with the right content, the right amount and provides an option to get more when they need it.

The app designer should avoid bombarding users with all content at once and needs to hide some content behind navigation. However, the app designer should also be aware that important information does not stay hidden behind navigation. The progressive disclosure policy ensures the user is given the main content and provides options to dig in deep to get more details if they want to.

For example, a weather app displays current temperature and precipitation in the main screen area. If the user intends to get more information, such as hourly weather forecasts or temperatures, the app user can scroll up and down the screen to find the information.


You need to make intelligent app design choices and stay consistent with them throughout the mobile app development phase. Don’t keep the navigation bar on top of the page for the first 3-4 screens and then move the navigation bar to the bottom in the next screens. Another example is playing with colors unnecessarily. For examples, you use pastel colors for splash screen and then switch to mellow tones once the app is loaded. Same goes for buttons. If one button has a specific padding, other buttons should also have similar padding. Your app needs to give a consistent feel to the user and not make the user uncomfortable.


No matter how great the design is, if the app does not have a natural flow you will never win users. Before you take any app design decisions, you need to ask yourself questions like:

  • What is the main purpose the app?
  • How many pages/screens a user has to parse to achieve a specific result?
  • How will they navigate to reach a specific function?
  • Which function needs to be the most accessible?
  • How many taps are required to reach a specific button?

The answer to such questions will help you make important app design decisions as to what needs to be included on which page. Ideally, this step should start before creating a sketch of your app and all mobile app development companies consider this as a vital step.


Mobile device is a broader term not restricted to specific screen sizes or specific models. The mobile experience is universal and app owners need to adhere to basic ergonomic standards and follow some general mobile usability fundamentals to make the mobile using experience more comfortable and enjoyable for the user, irrespective of what mobile device they are using.

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About the author
Promatics Technologies
Promatics Technologies
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Promatics is a young, rising software development agency from India. They have wide expertise ready to take on the most demanding projects on web and mobile app development, e-commerce, digital marketing, cloud solutions, quality assurance and IT consulting. In the mobile field, they have expert app developers ready to work on Android, iOS, HTML5 and wearables projects.

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