No way, they'll never do that on mobile!

A hand painted sign which says 'No'.

Consistently we’re told that certain things will never work on mobile and consistently user research tells us otherwise. You can’t argue with evidence and yet, still, this idea persists.

The 2018 ‘decade of the smartphone’ report revealed a startling fact; in the UK we now spend a whole day a week on our smartphones. 92% of all users interviewed also stated that browsing the web was more important to them than making calls. We all know that our mobiles are capable of so much now. From watching TV to online shopping, banking, booking holidays and sorting bills to name a few. In fact, nothing is too complicated to do on mobile.

Back in 2014 the CEO of RBS Ross McEwan famously said:

“Our busiest branch is the 7:01 from Reading to Paddington - over 167,000 of our customers use our Mobile Banking app between 7am and 8am on their commute to work every day. Over 2.1 million customers use our mobile app every week”

Five years ago, RBS were leading the charge with their mobile banking app. Now, pretty much every bank has their own version but shockingly, many remain limited in their functionality. This is most likely due to that outdated view that people just won’t do ‘that’ on mobile.

It’s important to avoid assuming user needs based on device. In practice, a mobile user’s context could just as easily be ‘sat at a desk’ as that old cliche of running for the bus.  My recommendation is to make all features available regardless of device. Why wouldn’t you start a loan application on your phone if that’s the device you have at the time that suits you to do so? Do not be tempted to simplify a desktop interface to make it fit.

Feature parity is key

We encourage our clients to make their features available on all platforms, regardless of how the user chooses to access their product. The Nationwide banking app doesn’t show transaction references and yet these are available on the main desktop site. Santander on the other hand do show this information and you’re able to do everything regardless of which device you’re on at any one time.

Different UI Paradigms

Removing features for smaller devices is one thing. For a powerful digital product though, just stacking the desktop design onto mobile or blowing up the mobile design for desktop won’t provide the best user experience either. Instead, we’d recommend focusing on adopting the appropriate interface design conventions for each platform.

Assuming that users don’t or can’t do something on mobile has consistently been proven false. Roughly half the global population has a smartphone. Designing for mobile users gives you the largest addressable market.

We’re focused entirely on smart phones and smaller devices here but as we go forward, we’re sure that this same argument will exist for visual user interfaces too. Smartwatches and speakers are in growth right now. In theory, as they become more commonplace, people will want to check balances, make loan applications and buy the latest fashion accessory on them without any need for visuals at all. Food for thought and one that deserves its own article entirely.

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What about ecommerce?

Ecommerce sales on mobile are increasing. In countries without a ‘PC heritage’, in some cases, 90% of all ecommerce sales are completed by mobile users.  This chart from Luke W shows the difference between mobile purchases on Cyber-Monday in the US and Single’s Day in China. It's quite telling isn't it? 

A chart from LukeW.com which shows the difference in sales between Cyber-Monday in the US and Single's Day in China.


A lot of the design work we do at Natural interaction focuses on ecommerce and digital products. From the very beginning, we take a device agnostic view to our work. We work from the smallest breakpoint up to deliver a smooth experience regardless of device. This also ensures consistency of experience as users move across different devices.  

The perfect example here is B2B software design. We take the same approach as we would for consumer facing projects. This is because business users want to do the same things as consumers so why limit their experience just because they’re checking their business accounts or and not their facebook?

Taking a clunky old desktop application and making it work across all devices doesn’t mean removing certain features to make the new UI fit, it means thinking cleverly and starting with a well thought out (and tested) structure.

Consistent information architecture, structure, prominence and conventions ensure that the experience feels coherent across multiple platforms. Why? Because users will build a mental model of how your software or website works and so, inconsistency across platforms is not an acceptable solution.  

Do I need an app?

We’ve spent a lot of time talking about using software and websites on smaller devices but one topic we’ve not discussed is how we’re consuming that content. Namely, should it sit on a mobile version of your website or software or whether it should be recreated in a specific mobile app format. Honestly, that’s a whole article in itself (handy - here’s one Alex wrote earlier) but in broad terms, the answer is more than often no.  When budget is tight, a highly responsive, well designed mobile website is going to tick most of the boxes of an app, with the benefit of working universally across different browsers and devices. That said, if money is no object, an app is a great addition to your arsenal, especially for businesses offering bookable services and ecommerce.

Users speak the truth

We’ve recently designed some really complicated data-heavy software for a B2B testing platform. Every single screen will be available on mobile and desktop. User feedback has lead to some changes in how certain things such as charts and lists of data are displayed on mobile but nothing has been removed. Once live, the entire product will be available to the user regardless of their device. This is something we’re really proud of and I can’t wait to share the case study with you.

If the rest of this article hasn’t convinced you, I’m sure that will. And it proves, nothing is too complicated to do on mobile. If you’re still struggling, we can help you figure out your users needs. We talk to users directly, translating our findings into evidence-led design decisions.

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