A humbling UI lesson in mobile: not everything you think is standard is really standard

The first screen users see in Wrapped Up. Four dots at the bottom are meant to prompt a swipe.

The first screen users see in Wrapped Up. Four dots at the bottom are meant to prompt a swipe.

Two weeks ago I launched a closed alpha test for my new app, Wrapped Up. On the list of testers were, of course, my parents who wanted to see what their daughter was working on. Since I believe the app has an appeal to a more mature demographic I was eager to get their feedback. I got this response: “We managed to download the app and I opened the first window but it’s stuck. Oh well, we won’t bother you any more.” It took me a while to understand that the swiping through the intro was completely unclear to them and that this minor setback is enough to discourage use of the application completely.

Twitter introducing Moments with only four dots.

Twitter introducing Moments with only four dots.

One of my PM objectives when designing Wrapped Up was to not reinvent the usability wheel. That is, to use familiar UI conventions whenever possible, which, given the simple-ness of my app, was almost everywhere. One of these features was the “warm welcome” sequence of screens that is part of the onboarding process. It seems simple enough: four screens that users can swipe left on to continue which introduce some of the app’s features. Four dots at the bottom indicate progress through the welcome and how many screens there are. I was so sure of this convention that I only looked at a few apps and decided to go ahead with the four dot design.

Third screen of the intro to Google Calendar app. Four dots and a chevron.

Third screen of the intro to Google Calendar app. Four dots and a chevron.

So my first response to my parents’ troubles was that it’s OK, it’s just one user, everyone understands onboarding happens by swiping left. Yet upon further thinking it was obvious that no, not everyone understands what I believed to be a UI standard and yes, I do want this group as users of my app. So I did some more research, asked for more feedback, and realized that while the progress-dots-only approach was common, it was most often paired with another icon to indicate how to proceed, such as a > chevron. Initially I was so sure of the UI standard for onboarding that I got some confirming evidence and left it at that. I decided to add a chevron to each of the screens in Wrapped Up, along with a DONE button at the end.

Lesson learned. When users take the time to offer feedback, don’t discount it with the this-is-common-and-everyone-does-this rationale. That’s a dangerous trap to fall into. It may be familiar to you, but (say it with me!) you are not the user.

Onboarding for the Recent News app. Four dots and a chevron.

Onboarding for the Recent News app. Four dots and a chevron.

Chromecast onboarding includes the four dots, a chevron and the option to skip the intro.

Chromecast onboarding includes the four dots, a chevron and the option to skip the intro.

Google Photos assumes users know there are more screens and allows them to skip the entire intro.

Google Photos assumes users know there are more screens and allows them to skip the entire intro.

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2 thoughts on “A humbling UI lesson in mobile: not everything you think is standard is really standard

  1. Pingback: Uber surge pricing: no, some users still don’t get it | What it all boils down to

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