Mobile Website and Application Usability

This report is based on 8 series of usability studies with users in 4 countries (mostly the US, but also Australia, Hong Kong, and the UK), reporting how they actually used a broad variety of websites and apps on a range of mobile devices, including touch phones and smartphones from many vendors. The report also presents the findings from two diary studies of users in 6 countries (Australia, The Netherlands, Romania, Singapore, UK, and US) that let us follow user behavior over a longer time period than is feasible in traditional user testing.

The basic finding from this research is that mobile users face severe usability problems in attempting to get things done on today's websites, whether dedicated mobile sites or traditional desktop-optimized sites that are rendered through a mobile browser.

From our empirical observation of real user behavior we derived a set of design guidelines for improving the usability of Web-based content and services when they are used on a mobile device, whether on websites or through native apps.

This 293-page report presents 237 design guidelines based on our usability research. Discussions and 479 screenshot illustrations supplement our findings.


  • Activities people perform on mobile phones
  • Mobile strategy
    • Should you go mobile?
    • Full site vs. mobile website vs. apps
    • What to include on mobile
  • Mobile Sites
    • Going full sites or mobile websites?
    • Mobile site, but which device?
    • Accessing a mobile site
    • Designing a mobile site
  • Mobile Apps
    • Differences between mobile platforms for apps
    • Making your app findable
    • What to include in a mobile app
    • From desktop to phone
  • Usability guidelines for mobile websites and apps
    • Homepage
    • Typing
    • Dropdown boxes, menus, carousels
    • Forms
    • Logging in and registering
    • Search
    • Lists and scrolling
    • Navigation
    • Content
    • Readability
    • Images, animation, and videos
    • Icons
    • Errors
    • Maps and location information
    • Shopping
    • Banking and transactions
    • Feature phones
  • Usability guidelines for touch phones
    • Targets: size, placement, affordance
    • Gestures
    • Horizontal swipe
    • Tapping and content
    • Orientation
    • Input
    • Guidelines for Apps
    • Immersive apps
    • Input
    • Modal dialogs and alerts
    • Registration and log In
    • Notifications
    • Tab bars and tool bars
    • Task flow
    • Progress indicators
    • Instructions and help
    • Initial experience
    • Hybrid apps
    • Physical buttons on platforms other than iOS


  • Checklist of 237 specific design recommendations: Review your mobile user experience for these 237 items, and you will discover many things that need improvement.
    • The average user interface design typically violates about half of our usability guidelines. You might have the one perfect site in the world that does everything right, but the odds are against you. It is safest to score your design against a checklist of usability guidelines to make sure you don't do anything wrong.
  • Description of how users behave when using a variety of mobile sites and apps, including extensive quotes. Learn from the users' comments and reactions to common design mistakes in the sites we tested.
  • $400,000 worth of research at 0.07% of the cost.
  • The differentiating factors that caused site visitors and app users to successfully or unsuccessfully complete tasks.
  • 479 color screenshots from a very wide variety of mobile sites and apps with descriptions of why they worked well or caused problems in usability testing.
  • Methodology description helping you define the protocol for running your own mobile usability studies.

What’s new with the second edition?

The second edition contains 152 more guidelines and includes new research on Android and Windows devices.

USA Today about the first edition

Who Should Read This Report?

  • Responsible for a company's or organization's mobile internet strategy
    • Intranet strategists will also benefit, even though no mobile intranets were tested for this report
  • Designing a mobile website or making an existing site mobile-friendly
  • Designing applications for mobile devices

Research Method

The information in this report is based on usability research with mobile users aged 20-50+ years. We used two different research methods:

  • One-on-one usability testing
  • Diary-based longitudinal study, for which people recorded their experiences with their mobile devices for approximately one week

Representative users tested a variety of websites and apps on a range of mobile devices, including touch phones and smartphones from many vendors. The studies took place in the United States, Australia, China (Hong Kong), the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Romania, and Singapore.


Research Reports

Training Courses

  • Visual Design for Mobile and Tablet: Day 1 and Day 2


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