LearnThe Ten Commandments of a Great Mobile User Experience


Josh Long
writes on August 29, 2012

We are now certain more people will access the web using their mobile devices rather than their desktop computers in the next year.

Since most designers are still designing mainly for the desktop, this mobile trend will present the single best opportunity for web designers in the last ten years.

If the majority of our designs will now be experienced on a mobile device, then I think it’s safe to say that we need to consider the principles of mobile design …and fast.

In order for us to design for mobile we need to understand the new fundamentals and principles of mobile design and have a strong contextual foundation before laying down the first pixel.

To tackle this task, I’ve decided to do some research and give you the most comprehensive head start possible. Here are the Ten Commandments of a Great Mobile User Experience.

1. Thou shalt make it useful.

The first order of designing for mobile is to be empathetic and understand the challenges and use cases of the people you are designing for. Aligning your designs with the reasons that people pull out their phones is the single most critical step in designing for the mobile web.

The reasons people hit your website on their desktop will vary greatly from why they need your site on their phone. If they’re on their iPhone on their way to the restaurant, they don’t need to see your company story. They’re most likely in need of your number for a reservation.

The bottom line is that if a person doesn’t find that your mobile design makes your site or app useful, you’ve lost. Know the big idea behind your mobile design, know the problem you need to solve, and make your designs useful. Remember, if they’re useful, they’ll get used.

Mobile Experience

The Ten Commandments of a Great Mobile Experience

2. Thou shalt make it desirable.

If Apple has taught us anything it’s that design matters. If the experience of using your design isn’t aesthetically pleasing and it doesn’t make you crave it after one glance, then what good is an experience if you can’t get your users to commit to using it?

Designing a great interface that people will crave, regardless of what function it serves, will be the initial hook that pulls people in to commit to giving your experience an honest try.

I’ve purchased apps or spent extra time on websites simply because they were sexy to use, only to find out later that they were also extremely useful. Just ask my friends at Metalab.

3. Thou shalt make it valuable.

In the world of design the most important word in your vocabulary should be “value”. Does your design give your users the most value for their time, money and energy? Does the experience of visiting your site or app make your users feel more popular, wiser, healthier, wealthier, or more productive?

In a world full of competition and eight million choices, if your experience doesn’t consistently provide enormous value for your user, they will be off to the next one.

Better yet, here’s the ultimate value test to put yourself through. Is your design something that your users can’t live without?

4. Thou shalt make it accessible.

There is nothing more frustrating than not being able to find what you need, when you need it. The interesting thing about mobile is that content is valued over navigation. If you embrace the constraints of a small mobile canvas, and can pull the information users want most to the front, you will create the experience your customers are looking for.

Accessibility also means not being the jerk that takes the fact that they have all of their senses for granted. The key to designing a great user experience is to create a great experience for everyone regardless of impairments.

5. Thou shalt make it credible.

Is your experience trusted? Can I be confident and believe that you will deliver every time? The smallest doubt in someone’s mind before they open your site or app, will keep people form using it. If your experience or content is inconsistent or you constantly have performance issues, once again your users will leave and choose one of the other hundred people that do what you do.

Clear app

When Clear launched their to-do it spread like wildfire with an interface worth talking about.

6. Thou shalt make it remarkable.

The great author and marketer Seth Godin wrote in his book, The Purple Cow, that the definition of remarkable is something worthy of remark. This means that designing a remarkable experience is literally designing something that people will want to talk about.

Besides word of mouth being the greatest form of marketing possible, designing something that people will want to talk about will be the gauge you needed to validate the work of your design.

In my experience, the way to make something remarkable is to have a hook. For example, people talked about the Clear to-do app out of thousands of other to-dos because of it’s remarkable user interface. Instagram had a simple hook that made everyone a great photographer, which in turn made them want to share Instagram with everyone.

Why would someone talk about you?

Three iPhones and Apps

Tweetbot, Instagram and the Treehouse App all make great use of the mobile experience regardless of being a native or web app.

7. Thou shalt make it useable.

You might ask yourself, didn’t he already talk about being useful? There’s a big difference between useful and useable. I have been disappointed over and over again by apps that had a beautiful interface, and were more than likely useful, but I never got to find out because it was simply not intuitive and completely unusable without a ten step tutorial.

When my three-year-old daughter picks up an iPad, she can go to town. When I pick up some of the simple note taking apps I’ve tried I couldn’t type two sentences and organize them. Make your designs useable and they’ll get used.

8. Thou shalt make it fast.

If your site or app are sluggish, your users are gone. The apps that we return to for long periods of use are the apps that are snappy, responsive, and timely. We simply do not have time to wait for slow experiences.

Be sure to optimize all of your images and assets. Always be focusing on speed, and even when you can’t make something fast, give the perception of speed with descriptive pre-loaders and UX elements. Always remember, fast is definitely a user experience that we all want to have.

9. Thou shalt make it simple.

Simplicity is the new gold standard. I don’t have time here, but if you want to really dig into simplicity I suggest reading The Laws of Simplicity by John Maeda. It is hands down one of my favorite books of all time. In his book, Maeda encapsulates his principles of simplicity in the acronym “S.H.E.”. To make something simple, you either subtract, hide, or embody any non-critical elements that you have in your design.

To do this you can use icons to embody text and minimize typing by maximizing the gestures and controls that are available to you. The key is to use the canvas you’re given and do as little design as possible. I told Tim Van Damme of Instagram that I was researching this topic and here was his advice to mobile designers:

“Don’t try to be a showoff… People love to show off their design skills and often over-design interfaces, pushing out the actual content.”

Tim Van Damme and his iPhone

Tim Van Damme likes to keep it simple and urges designers to not over-design for mobile.

Statistics show that 95% of web users do not read 80% of your content, and that almost every site or app on the market has 75% more features than are necessary. Once you’ve made your mobile experience simple, keep subtracting until you’ve gotten your designs stripped down to the core.

10. Thou shalt make it delightful.

Is the experience of using your design a pleasurable one? Is it fun to be one of your users? If your app or site were a person, what kind of person would they be?

Delight is the magic behind a great mobile user experience. Similar to a human personality, the more a user gets to know your mobile experience, the stronger the bond they will have with it.

Mail Chimp

Mailchimp is known for creating a great experience and personifying their app with a mascot.

Mailchimp takes this a step further by actually creating a character mascot that you can interact with. Their error messages are soft and friendly, and you’re always greeted with the smile and witty banter of their cute little mail chimp.

The smallest tweaks in color, tone, or vocabulary can give your users a delightful experience that they actually look forward to returning to. No one has ever said anything negative about someone that showed them a delightful time.


The bottom line of creating a great mobile user experience is to find the sweet spot between fun, fast & useful. If you can master these 10 Commandments of a Great Mobile User Experience, then you’ll be well on your way to designing an experience that makes everyone happy, fulfills their needs, and compels them to tell their friends. This in turn will make you a very successful and satisfied mobile designer.


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