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InfoQ Homepage Articles Personal UX -- Solving Unique Problems Created by Widespread Global Mobilization

Personal UX -- Solving Unique Problems Created by Widespread Global Mobilization

The widespread global adoption of mobile devices has created its own unique set of problems -- or opportunities

It should come as no surprise that smartphone and mobile device adoption is soaring. Forrester Research predicts that smartphone users will hit 3.5 billion by 2019. Smartphone penetration among cell phone users, they predict, will pass the 50 percent line in 2017. As of 2013, the global smartphone penetration was 28 percent and is predicted to reach 59 percent by 2019.

Furthermore, a survey conducted by Sophos found that the average users carry 2.9 mobile devices. Some people have as many as 5 to 7 devices -- desktop, laptop, tablet, smartphone, and some sort of wearable devices such as the upcoming Apple Watch or the Samsung Gear 2 Neo. This represents a significant challenge in adapting the technology in a manner where users can maximize their experience between multiple devices. The Pew Research Internet Project broke smartphone usage down by age group in the U.S. and found that in the age group of 18 to 29 years, about 98 percent had cell phones. In the 65 and over age group, about 74 percent had cell phones. But this percentage in the older population is growing regularly.

Different age groups utilize technology differently, which presents a series of User Experience (UX) challenges for developers. In addition, a comScore study found that individual usage of different types of devices changes throughout the day: mobile use late at night and in the early morning during commutes, while desktops and PCs were most used during work hours; tablets were most popular in the evenings. Some of those challenges, nonetheless, could be viewed as opportunities.

Problems or Opportunities?

A primary challenge is to make it easy for customers to use all of these devices in an integrated way. As the comScore study suggested, people are using different devices throughout the day. A legitimate question, though, is whether or not their usage is contiguous. In other words, are they merely surfing the 'net, tweeting or on Facebook during their commutes, performing business-related work and communication during the work hours, and then back to surfing or watching media in the evening? Or are they sending and receiving emails on their phones and tablets, working on documents, and continuing from one device to the next depending not so much on the type of work, but on the location and preferred device?

Although undoubtedly some usage varies from device to device, it's certain that many people use all devices for all types of usage. This has created a shift from a personal area network (PAN) to a cloud area network (CAN). Although numerous users will store content such as documents or photographs in a cloud service like Dropbox, the trend is toward an automatic upload between devices such as in Apple's iCloud. Apple’s recently released iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite include a new effort to improve the integration between Macs and iOS devices under the banner term Continuity.

Although this will likely change as time passes, the older age group is not as comfortable with things like complex interactions, small screens, etc. as younger groups. As a result, developers need to think of simpler interactions for older consumers -- few steps and bigger interfaces.

This is somewhat complicated by the new market segment of wearable digital devices like the Apple Watch. How will people with poor eyesight and large fingers deal with these devices?

Personalization versus Customization

Let's differentiate between two concepts: customization and personalization.

Customization, in this context, allows the user to configure an application's look and feel according to his or her needs. This can be reflected in changes to the order of icons, application themes, or color, etc.

Personalization, however, involves the computer or device interpreting the user's needs according to how he or she utilizes the device, and adjusting accordingly.

In short, one is user-led and the other is system-led. As multi-device interaction becomes the norm, it's increasingly important to ensure that systems and devices are personalized. In order to do this well, developers need to create granular personas. By this, I mean that personas, which are profiles of users or customers, need to become more exact in differentiating among the different tasks and personal goals users may have when using devices at different times. For example, a physician may use her tablet computer and desktop computer for very specific functions while seeing patients and writing or dictating notes; but during a commute or in the evenings, her usage may be very different -- still work-related in some cases, or entertainment-related, or personal.

Designers need to acquire as much user data as possible to be able to configure for each persona. The end goal, as Jesse Friedman says in his UX Real-Time Site Personalization talk, is to "Give users what they want, before they ask for it."

So. How?

Tony Russell-Rose, Founder & Director at UXLabs outlines approaches and patterns of personalization. The Dimensions of Personalization, for instance, include:

  • Profiling Data
  • Profiling Method
  • Target
  • Scope, and
  • Persistence

For Profiling Data, developers need to decide what data is required and who they need to acquire it from. There is a wide variety of data available, including demographic information, the user's interests and location. There is Behavioral Data, which includes buying and viewing history, and Collective Data, which takes the aggregate of all the data and organizes it into usage and buying patterns.

The Profiling Method asks how the data is acquired and applied. Explicit Profiling methods combine user preferences and interests. Implicit Profiling evaluates the user's role and segments it into different categories, such as new versus repeat visitor, and then factors in behavioral data. Content-based data provides suggestions based on similar products.

It is necessary to take into account that mobiles are more personal than PCs and they contain more personal data that can be used for personalization, including GPS location, position, contacts, etc.

The Target looks at where the effects of personalization are experienced. In other words: on the phone, on the tablet, at the PC. At the first level, developers look at the User Interface (UI): how the tools and widgets are laid out and the color scheme, the content, and display defaults. If well designed, a display default wouldn't necessary require most users to modify it because it met the needs of the majority of users. Merchandising, then, involves making recommendations of related items.

Scope revolves around the extent of the personalization experience. There should be limits or the actual function of the application will get distorted beyond usability or functionality. There should be site-wide settings and page-specific options, which comes down to various levels of filtering.

Persistence is a focus of the personalization approach. As the system learns from its users, some evaluative method needs to be made of short-term temporary interests -- the users' sudden interest in heirloom tomatoes, for instance -- versus long-term stable interests, such as the user's repeated return to websites and videos regarding fitness.

As user productivity may cost a lot for large companies, it`s important to optimize user performance for enterprise applications.

Balance and Trends

Acquiring and collating all this user data is important in developing a personalized application, but it's not without its dangers. It's vital that developers balance the use of personal data such as age, gender, titles, and product preferences against over-pushing notifications and advertising that may create a negative effect. With tons of incoming messages, it has become complicated to filter even useful content -- in other words, don't dump so much targeted advertising on a user that they get annoyed with the product or your application.

It's clear that the trend is toward cloud-based multi-device usage. A final step in personalization, whether of a website or an application, is the development of a "journey map." A journey map is a visual representation or graph that describes the step by step process, or journey, that a user or customer makes as they interact with the service or application. In his article in UX Magazine, "Creating Savvy and Sophisticated User Experiences through Personalization," Matthew Fiore says, "This really displays all the touch points you make with the user or customer throughout the entire digital (and sometimes even non-digital) experience. Documenting these steps helps us to further explore the decisions a user makes."

Not all personalization is likely to be extreme. For example, a device that collects data from your car may simply change color when your gas drops below a certain level, or adjusts your house's thermostat if no one is at home. This merges into the concept of the Internet of Things. As more of our world becomes connected, not just our mobile devices, but all devices -- all Things: the user's experience, ease of experience, and comfort level with the interface -- will become increasingly important. Developing this technology so it is seamless and more importantly, invisible, presents not just challenges, but opportunities for the savvy designer.

About the Author

Dmytro Svarytsevych is UX Office Director at SoftServe, Inc. Dmytro has been in the industry for more than 13 years, specializing in User Interface design, Interaction design, Mobile design, Information Architecture and User Experience. At SoftServe, Inc., Dmytro is responsible for all User Experience touch points, defining and integrating a company-wide User Experience Strategy to facilitate a consistent and flexible expertise growth, as well as applying the UX best practices and methodologies to various SoftServe projects.

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