The problem with mobile app "Pretenders"

So true:

The iPhone browser already has a back button

This is a great explanation of why mobile web apps shouldn’t simply try to emulate a native app:

Users of pretender apps get an experience that falls squarely in the uncanny valley — it looks like a native app, but something isn’t quite right. Perhaps it doesn’t respond as expected or it doesn’t quite follow the conventions of a native app. Often pretender apps have both of these problems and then some. They simply don’t feel “at home”.

Another problem which we’ve heard in usability: non-iPhone users are put-off when they encounter mobile websites that “look too much like an iPhone”. There are interaction problems: should the Android user tap the glossy button or the hard back button to move to the previous page? There are also visual design problems: when a page screams “designed for iPhone,” non-iPhone users feel like they’re being treated as second-class citizens. Not good, considering that many users consider their choice of phone to be a mode of self-expression.

Recommendation: Focus less on “I’ve fooled them all into thinking this is native!” and more on “This is a great user experience.” A few tips:

  • Keep it clean & quick to load (consider your use of images, animations, etc.)
  • Streamline key workflows: keep in mind that each time the user navigates to another page, they run the risk of encountering slow load times
  • Optimize layout & visual elements to be appropriate for a small screen size (look to native apps for best practices about font size, line height, tap area, etc.)
  • By default redirect users to the mobile-optimized version of your site, but include a link to the full version of the website

You're better at solving someone else's problems

Studies show that people solve problems more quickly & creatively when they think about them in the abstract. However, when faced with challenges in our proximity (space/time/social connections), people tend to think concretely. Thus when solving problems, it can be useful to take a step back and/or find others to problem-solve with you. More tips for creative collaboration in Daniel Pink’s article

Sounds like yet another reason to continue working across business unit lines. Regular check-ins, discussions, and design reviews may help to move our projects forward more quickly & with higher quality.

By the way, there have been times when this technique has been quite helpful:

When partners aren’t an option, establish distance yourself. Create some psychological space between you and your project by imagining you’re doing it for someone else or contemplating what advice you’d give to another person in your predicament.

Kano Model - Invest in Customer Delight

The Kano Model describes the relationship between the investment in a product and customer satisfaction.


  • Performance Payoff: In general, more investment in (the right areas of) your application will increase customer satisfaction.
  • Basic Expectations: If your application sets user expectations by making a promise, then you must invest in meeting this expectation or risk frustrating your customers. However, meeting expectations won’t necessarily inspire delight.
  • Excitement Generators: To increase delight, strive to “under promise and over deliver”. The classic example of this is Zappos, which may promise 4-5 day delivery, but ship the item much faster.
  • Change: Realize that over time and industry adoption, delight may eventually turn into basic expectations.

Kano Model: a tool to predict user satisfaction

Tailoring communication to improve customer support

Customer support calls are opportunities to create great user experiences.

They often don’t end up that way. Long wait times, complicated menu systems, and rep juggling can be frustrating. Yet more and more we’re hearing about companies like Zappos that distinguish themselves through their excellent customer support. Nailing the customer experience when when a user is most upset can transform them from the biggest critic to the strongest promoter.

eLoyalty offers systems to help companies to improve their customer support experiences. When a user calls the customer support line, the system uses the Process Communication Model to determine the caller’s communication style. It alerts the agent, who can then adjust their own communication style in order to best help the user. For example, if a fact-focused “Workaholic” calls, an agent can get straight to the point and give them the information they need. If an emotional “Reactor” calls, the agent knows to connect with them on a personal level before trying to solve their problem.

The numbers are pretty impressive:

A banking client saw the attrition rate among customers struggling with the most serious issues drop from 7% to 1%. Another client using the system saw their J.D. Power rating rise from the high single digits to the low single digits (in the J.D. Power system, one is best). And according to Wesbecher, call center operation costs drop as much as 15% in the first year to 18 months that clients use the eLoyalty system.

This speaks to the value of tailoring support experiences to users’ preferences and emotional needs.

How else can we detect and design for individual preferences?

Persuasion & the Dark Side of design

By understanding how people make decisions, we can design to influence their behavior. Check out this article by Smashing Magazine about designing with cognitive bias in mind. Also, make sure to read Dan Ariely’s fascinating (& fun) book Predictably Irrational if you haven’t already.

Persuasive design can certainly be a good thing. Since interaction design often helps users to make decisions that lead to accomplishing their goals, a persuasive nudge can be both helpful and welcome.

But as any design superhero knows, “with great power comes great responsibility.” What happens when you consciously choose to not do right by your users? To trick, mislead, or take advantage of them?

Harry Brignull gave a presentation about Dark Patterns, which are design patterns that take advantage of people in a less-than-positive way. See the Dark Patterns Wiki for a list of malicious design patterns. Unfortunately, they are far too familiar. A few examples: asking trick questions, creating friend spam, and (I love the name of this one) privacy Zuckering.

When you realize that psychology & design enable you to influence people, what will you choose to do with that power?