Editor’s note: Since writing this column, Steven has done additional user research and has updated his design guidelines for mobile phones accordingly. Read his latest column on this topic: “Design for Fingers, Touch, and People, Part 1.”
As UX professionals, we all pay a lot of attention to users’ needs. When designing for mobile devices, we’re aware that there are some additional things that we must consider—such as how the context in which users employ their devices changes their interactions or usage patterns.  However, some time ago, I noticed a gap in our understanding: How do people actually carry and hold their mobile devices? These devices are not like computers that sit on people’s tables or desks. Instead, people can use mobile devices when they’re standing, walking, riding a bus, or doing just about anything. Users have to hold a device in a way that lets them view its screen, while providing input.
In the past year or so, there have been many discussions about how users hold their mobile devices—most notably Josh Clark’s.  But I suspect that some of what we’ve been reading may not be on track. First, we see a lot of assumptions—for example, that all people hold mobile devices with one hand because they’re the right size for that—well, at least the iPhone is.  Many of these discussions have assumed that people are all the same and do not adapt to different situations, which is not my experience in any area involving real people—much less with the unexpected ways in which people use mobile devices. Read More
The menu icon has a long and storied history that long predates mobile devices. Designers have used menu icons, in one form or another, since long before touchscreen smartphones gained dominance. Plus, there are hardware menu buttons—often with iconic representations of menus similar to that shown in Figure 1. Read More
Recently, a client asked me to do a heuristic evaluation. They had hired another vendor to design an iOS app for one of their divisions, and it was my job to see how well they had done. And I almost failed. It was way, way too hard to evaluate the design, because it was all pages. There was no overall view of the system, no task flow, and only occasionally had they even really defined an interaction.
This is, sadly, typical of our industry today—and one way or another—this is something that I encounter regularly. While mobile UX designers may like to pretend that no design before the iPhone matters, we stick to many of the principles of 1970s graphic design in practice. Just look up almost any UX design pattern library, and you’ll find nothing but screenshots. Read More