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Designing for the Tablet User
By: ML Haynes
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It’s been a busy time the last few weeks if you’re designing functional apps and websites for mobile, and particularly tablet, devices. And while there will always be new operating systems and resolutions to chase, researchers at the Nielsen Norman Group recently reminded us that it is usability and the user experience that should be our constant challenge and the reason for ever-improving the work that we do for brands and business alike.

Earlier last month Jakob Nielsen published “Tablet Usability,” the analysis and report from usability studies his firm conducted with tablet users and a deep roster of devices (representing Android, Apple, and Windows). On the whole the outcome was positive, with the determination that “tablet usability is reasonably solid” and “most websites are fairly usable on tablets.”

He did, however, mention four negatives or threats to tablet usability. They are:

Flat Design — The oversimplification of interface design coupled with the elimination of key surface identifiers can increase the instances of accidental activation. Sure, the deep wood grains, grooved knobs, and chrome-plated sliders were a bit much in the beginning, but it might be worthwhile to keep some of the tactile if only to telegraph to users what’s touchable and what’s not.

Improperly Rescaled Design — We’ve all opened these apps on our tablets, the ones with the less-than-optimal resolution, oversized buttons, and out-of-whack proportions. These are the phone apps that have been sized up for tablet use. These repurposed designs may appear to save time and money on the front end, but they’re pretty much guaranteed to cost in usability and satisfaction.

Poor Gestures — Start out with the fact that users don’t read, regardless of how concise and clear instructions might be. Then add low to no visibility into what users might have done, accidental or purposeful. It all adds up to a confusing experience that impacts app adoption and user experience.

Workflow Mismatch — Most users note web browsing as the top activity when asked how they use tablets. That helps to explain the challenge of workflow, when users are accustomed to moving back and forth between results and destination pages. When results are treated as temporary and back buttons are virtually non-existent users’ expectations of the browsing experience are disjointed and disappointing.

Are you currently designing for tablet users? Has your enterprise client equipped the sales force with devices or has your retail client adopted a mobile point-of-sale program? How has your approach to design changed? And is “user-centric” your starting point or eleventh-hour save?

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About the Author

ML Haynes, hybrid creative and interactive director, pixel pusher and wordsmith, strategist and activist, thinks out loud here. Follow her on Twitter.

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