Category Archives: Native Apps

I Did My Taxes On My Phone This Year! TurboTax Mobile Site FTW!

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So I kind of wish I could kiss every member of the TurboTax mobile design team.

I did my 2015 taxes ON MY PHONE! And it was, *gasp*, FUN!

When I say, “did my taxes,” I’m not talking 1040EZ… I’m talking mortgage, student loan interest, kiddo deductions, stock, IRA etc. style taxes.

It was unreal. Every time I got a new tax form in the mail I’d whip out my phone, enter the deduction, save it, and think, “Dude… I’m doing my taxes on my freaking cell phone, and the UI is amazing!” Then I’d grin like a raging weirdo.

A task that is normally boring and stressful and frustrating was full of unexpected delight.

This experience was exceptionally better than my usual system, which is spending a week of being stressed to the max, rifling through piles of paper trying to find copies of lost tax docs all over my house.

The hamburger could use a menu label, but otherwise the UI was flawless. Perfect touch target sizing, clean inputs, clear fonts, simple nav, easy editing/deleting, etc. It’s beautiful and easy to use and I love it.

Huge kudos to the entire design team at TurboTax. Your clean, seamless mobile UI and absolutely fab UX have me looking forward to doing my taxes in 2016! Thank you for taking the agony out of tax submission time! Bravo!

And seriously people, if they can make an app used to do taxes this fabulous, apps for every other industry have a chance. They took the most boring, borderline excruciating task on earth and flipped in into a mobile masterpiece. There are no excuses left now, the bar has been set!

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How To Rock Your App Launch: 10 Quick Tips

Launching a new app can be a pretty daunting task.

A good friend of mine recently developed and launched an app because she had wished for years that it would exist. It’s an app that allows wrestlers, parents and coaches to track wrestling scores, matches and opponents with ease.

I learned some important lessons while watching her go through the app launching process that I’d like to share with you.

1. Make sure you’re passionate about the concept behind the app that you’re developing.

She needed this app to exist so that she could use it, and she thought other parents may want to use it too.

2. Launch your app at the right time.

The pre-season just started, and she put the app on the market at exactly the right moment. Before her app had even been out for 1 week, she already had tons of downloads. If she had launched it a few months before or a few months later, it wouldn’t have been nearly as successful at launch.

3. If you’re going to launch the app yourself, make sure you do your pre-marketing months in advance.

Before her app was even finished, she was posting teaser links in wrestling forums, and reaching out to wrestling organizations to let them know it was on the way.

4. Check branding options before you become too attached to an app name.

She didn’t name her app until she made sure that the domain name, Facebook url and Twitter handle were available. If they hadn’t been, she was willing to change the name of the app.

Don’t marry yourself to an app name until you’ve secured the appropriate branding.

5. Perform Usability testing with all of the appropriate personas.

She tested her app with kids, teens and with adults to ensure that it would be usable by her entire target audience. She focused closely on UX from the very beginning which helped with her rapid adoption rate at launch.

6. Once you launch, sincerely ask your users for feedback.

After she posted links to the app in various forums, she asked sincerely for feedback and feature requests from her target audience. Her son has only been wrestling for a few years and is in elementary level tournaments, so she didn’t have experience yet with high school level wrestling. She wanted to make absolutely sure that she was meeting the needs of her entire user base.

7. Iterate like crazy.

She launched the app with the features she felt were necessary for success, but had a plan for various iterations of those features in advance. After launch, several of the feature requests that her users presented were so fantastic that she integrated them in with the first couple of planned feature iterations immediately.

8. Don’t trip yourself up by trying to integrate every single feature that is requested, but don’t get so focused on your planned iterations that you don’t listen the feedback you’re receiving from your target audience.

This is quite possibly one of the trickiest parts of app development. The knee jerk reaction in the beginning stages is to include every single feature request people send your way. Over time your app will become huge and cumbersome and so feature heavy that the UX will suffer.

At the same time, you can’t get so obsessed with your pre-planned release strategy and timeline that you don’t take time to integrate the best feature requests while you work on iterations of existing features.
Strike a balance between these two areas and you’ll wind up with a phenomenal app that really meets your users needs.

9. Pre-plan your monetization strategy.

Before she had even finished her app, she reached out to some experienced industry folks through Twitter and other social media outlets to determine the best way to monetize her app.

The option she landed on makes perfect sense for her audience. Don’t think that you need to milk people dry from the beginning to make money. I don’t ever download an app that I have to pay for, unless I have an opportunity to try a lite version first, and I often find myself upgrading to the paid version if I love the app.

10. Add analytics from the get go.

You know what’s awesome? Being able to watch the use of your app increase on a daily basis, and having the opportunity to watch which features are being used the most. Custom events in Google Analytics are a great way to keep an eye on what’s going on with your app in real time. You can also put together some pretty killer stat sheets based on the data you receive on a monthly basis. Having analytics access also helps you locate problem areas from a UX perspective with ease.

My friend added custom events before her app went live, and is having a blast looking at her stats each night. Data = fun. 🙂

I hope you found these tips helpful. Now get out there a launch some killer apps!

In case you want to check out her app, you can download it for Android or iPhone by visiting http://www.suplexapp.com, http://www.facebook.com/suplexapp or http://twitter.com/suplexapp (See? Solid branding FTW.) 🙂

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10 UX Tools I Couldn’t Live Without: Oct 2014 Version

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SolidifyApp – Mega simple prototyping/click tracking tool for desktop and mobile usability testing.

UXRecorder – Mobile usability testing app (Create a native prototype in SolidifyApp and run it through UXRecorder = Magical).

Silverback App – Mac usability testing.

Trello – Organize all the things.

Skitch – Fab for UX reviews.

Balsamiq – Best collaborative wire framing tool on the market.

TargetProcess – Track Design/Development/QA progress and burndown.

GoToMeeting – Design collaboration via video chat/recording sessions & screen sharing with Audio.

Google Analytics – Analyze how your clients are using your product, look for pain points, adjust UX accordingly.

InVisionApp – Hi res desktop and mobile prototyping.

Bonus Tool:

Spotify – Great music gets the creative juices flowing!

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Stop Asking For Photo Access During The App Install Process!

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So when iOS8 came out, I had to clear a boatload of misc apps and photos and such to install the over the air update. (I realize I could have plugged in and done it through iTunes, but deleting 8654 apps sounded like less of a hassle at the time.)

I deleted Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, then reinstalled them once my phone finished updating.

Twitter! How could you?!
During the reinstall process I discovered a shocking truth. One of my most used apps, Twitter, STILL asks for photo access immediately after install! And it still feels shady and invasive. I immediately said no, even though I upload pictures to Twitter pretty much daily.

UX Fail
It’s a definite UX fail, which bums me out because they made some really fab enhancements this release. I’m loving being able to click on sender faces to open their profiles in the messages area. It’s a beautiful UX change. I’m loving the new profile look and feel too.

Kudos LinkedIn and Facebook
LinkedIn and Facebook both did the right thing, and waited to ask for photo access until I actually wanted to add a photo to a post. At that point it’s just a natural feeling part of the upload flow.

“You want to add a photo? No prob, just give me access to your photos so we can get this done.”

“Of course app that doesn’t seem shady and invasive, I obviously have to give you access to complete the task I want to finish. I’m invested in the process, and the request feels natural.”

Twitter: Now Jump Through Hoops Because Our Install Process Was Shady
Since Twitter was all sketchy at install, when I finally did want to post a picture I got that annoying message telling me I’d need to go through the 92 step process required to enable it.

UX Pros: Take A Stand
As UX pros, can we all just agree that asking for photo access during install is just generally obnoxious? It creates a negative initial user experience and creates a feeling of brand distrust right off the bat.

Small details like privacy setting request flows can have a big impact on brand trust. Stop making your brand seem seem untrustworthy by fixing your on-boarding experiences!

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You have a mobile native app! Great! But why?!

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Brands I shop at very occasionally keep spamming me with their announcements about their new improved native phone apps.

Some of them are actually kind of cool. SweetFrog has an app that contains games for kids, and a frequent shopper QR code. You pay, they scan your app’s QR code and they give you credit for your purchase. A certain number of purchases = free ice cream. Who doesn’t love free ice cream? The app is a total win.

Another app I couldn’t live without: Mobile Banking. How did I ever survive life before I could cash a check using my phone?! Driving to the bank is so 4 years ago. If a bank does’t have a solid mobile banking native app, I refuse to do business with them. A responsive website isn’t enough for me because I check my account daily (thank you identity theft incident for making me paranoid) and a native app is more convenient/feels more secure to me.

Walmart has their new app that contains their price catcher thing, which actually proved to be kind of helpful during back to school time. You scan your receipt, they compare your purchases to local sales at other stores, if they are charging more, they credit you the difference. Why is this helpful? As a parent, I didn’t have to go to 982374 different stores to save 20 bucks on school supplies. I threw them all in my cart, scanned my receipt and got my savings 3 days later.

Now lets talk about native apps that don’t make sense to me. Once a year at Christmas time I hit our slightly lame mall and buy a bunch of stuff for my family.  I’m not going to download the native GAP app to shop there once every Christmas. I’m not going to download the AE app because I buy a gift card there once a year for my sister. I’m not even remotely invested enough in these brands to download their native apps. That’s space that I could be filling with pictures and videos of my kiddo and my puppy.

Are younger shoppers downloading these apps and using them often? Could be.

On the flip side, I do occasionally shop on my phone at Christmas time, to avoid the crowds (since I’m kind of a hermit). If your retail site isn’t responsive, and you try to force me to download a native app to shop, I’m not buying your stuff and I’ll move along to your competitor.

Choosing between Mobile Native Apps and Responsive Web Design is a big deal for brands. One size does not fit all. Sometimes a responsive site just makes sense. Sometimes you really need to have a mobile native app. Think about your audience and how they access your brand.

If you can swing both a responsive site AND a mobile native app, and they both make sense for your target demographic, more power to you.

Is your target audience a group that will surf the app store to find you? Will they download your native app if you put a giant banner on your lame mobile web site that doesn’t contain any content? Or are they the type that will visit your site on their mobile device and expect to be able to find everything and shop without that annoying download step?

If you’re legitimately not sure which way the majority of your target audience will swing, ASK THEM. Fire off an email campaign, ask your audience which they would prefer and why. It’s a pretty big decision for your brand. If you make the wrong choice you’ll potentially be losing out on mega bucks. It’s very much worth the time to conduct some user research.

To sum things up, don’t just assume that you need a mobile native app because everyone else has one. Take a hard look at your audience and see if the investment makes sense. Obviously you HAVE to have a mobile web presence of some sort these days or you’re going to lose out on huge amounts of cash, but don’t assume it has to be a native app if it doesn’t make sense for your target audience.

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Facebook Messenger: Forced App Download Is A Big No

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In all the years that I’ve used Facebook, I’ve never once complained about their UI changes. Even when they seemed bizarre at first, I embraced them and adapted, because no one was forcing me to use the app, and I grew to love the changes over time.

For the first time since 2005 when I started using Facebook, they have royally ticked me off.

I went to check my messages on my phone yesterday, and was denied access to my messages area. There was just an overly cheery looking screen that said, we’ve moved to Facebook Messenger, download the app. There was no way to close the message, there was no option to decline.

I have purposely NOT downloaded the Facebook Messenger app since its launch. I do not use push notifications on my phone. I do not want my day to be interrupted by messages flashing up on my screen. I have the badge icons turned off for a majority of my apps because I like to control my experience. When I feel I have time to check my messages, I open the app of choice, and I check my messages and respond. When I need a mental break from whatever project I’m working on during lunch break, I whip out my phone and check Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

The messenger app added absolutely zero value to my Facebook experience because of my usage habits, hence my avoidance of downloading the thing.

Yesterday when I realized I was going to be FORCED to download the app in order to view my messages on my phone, I was furious. The I read the app’s privacy policy and was absolutely appalled. For anyone who downloaded the app without viewing it, glance through it today.

I had an extremely negative user experience for the first time in 9 years. I will not be installing the messenger app, I’ll be checking my messages from my desktop, which is an enormous inconvenience.

My phone is my personal device. I control every aspect of it. The experience felt like a forced invasion of my personal space.

Forcing end users to download an app, or lose access to a heavily used feature, is a horrible business practice in general, but the awful UI is even worse. Having to flip back and forth between the 2 apps gives the experience a VERY Windows 8 feel. It’s like having 2 interfaces smashed together in an extremely awkward way.

I’m extremely disappointed in Facebook’s decision to force the app download. Obviously, I’m one person in billions of users, it’s not going to bother them in any way from a corporate stance, but my brand trust, and trust in their design decisions in general just tanked. It makes me sad.

6 UX Tips To Help You Keep Your Website From Becoming “That Guy”

Have you ever seen a person and thought, “Wow! He or she is REALLY attractive!” Then the person starts talking and is so arrogant, crazy, clueless or obnoxious that you’re all, “Wait, false alarm, the attraction is gone.”

Well some websites have the same effect on people. I’ve gone to some beautifully graphically designed sites, only to discover that their content is a giant hot mess, and I can’t find a thing.

On the other hand, I’ve visited some HIDEOUS sites (Ahem, Craigslist) that get the job done. I’m able to find what I need in seconds but I have to force myself not to hide my eyes.

So let’s talk a bit about what it takes to keep your site from landing in the “Wow, this site is awesome! Oh wait, no, never mind.” category.

1. Display all of your contact information prominently on your homepage.

Or not so prominently as long as it’s somewhere on your landing page. Put it in the footer if you must, but for the love of all things holy, do NOT put it in a graphic. There is nothing worse than wanting to call a business, looking it up on your phone and not being able to click the phone number. My short term memory is shot, I don’t want to have to memorize your phone number and type it into my phone keypad. The same goes for email and physical addresses. In the wise words of one of my favorite meme stars Sweet Brown, “Ain’t nobody got time for that!”

2. Don’t bury your product information.

I do not want to click 94 times to get details on your product specs and pricing. I also don’t want to chase the the info around an obnoxious homepage slider. Just list your products and give me the deets quickly please.

3. Make it sexy AND well organized.

While I cringe each time Craigslist loads, I do come back. And there’s another site that shall remain unnamed that is a nightmare content wise, but it’s so beautiful that I still peruse it from time to time. Your goal? Gorgeous AND well organized. Lean too far away from either option and you’re tempting customers who have a 3 second attention span, to leave (myself included). You want their money, so find a happy medium.

4. Don’t ever unceremoniously dump people on the landing page of your mobile app when they find you through search.

Hate. That!!! And it happens to me about 42 times a day.

“Oh look! I Googled and found EXACTLY what I need! Happy dance!” Click the link: “This isn’t what I… Ugh, are you kidding me? AGAIN?”

Google search has also started penalizing sites that do this, so it’s bad for business in addition to being wretchedly bad UX.

5. Optimize your site.

Even if I adore your product, I’m not going to wait longer than 5 seconds for your site to load. In fact, 5 seconds is an eternity. Check out stats on extended load time bounce rates. Even hundredths of seconds count! Make 110% sure your site is optimized for the quickest load times possible across devices.

6. This goes without saying, but make your site mobile friendly.

There are tons of ways to go about this (native app download banners on the site if you navigate to it via phone, mobile web apps, responsive web design), just pick one and make it happen. The number of mobile only internet users is rising significantly every single day. You can’t ignore the phenomenon, and if you try you’re going to get left in the dust and experience massive financial and customer satisfaction repercussions. Take a deep breath, pick a method and make it happen.

Put this it all together and what do you get? A website that is fabulous looking, easy to navigate, cross device compatible and full of well organized content! You also get happy customers, more money in your pockets, and you keep your website from becoming “That Guy.” Good stuff!

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Mobile Dev Tools to Get Your App Started

I just attended a fabulous tiConf session by Grant Shipley @gshipley, in which he outlined some great mobile dev tools to get your app up and running.

Mobile Dev Tools
Appcelerator Titanium
Red Hat’s Open Shift
Strong Loop
MongoDB
Twilio

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Then Responsive Web Design said to Mobile Native Apps: “Let’s be friends.”

So recently I’ve seen some posts by some very upset people, going back and forth about why responsive design is or is not the future of the web. I’ve also seen folks slamming RWD saying that mobile native apps are the future, and that anyone who thinks RWD is the future is insane. Here’s what I have to say to both sides of the argument: take a step back and embrace both. Here’s why.

Responsive Web Design

If done correctly responsive web design can be incredibly powerful for your clients. They can have one place to add content, that displays cleanly across devices.  And, if you optimize their responsive site correctly, it’ll load beautifully and quickly regardless of the device being used to view it.

Native Apps

Now lets talk about native apps. In certain situations, native apps just make sense. They give you a sense of security. For example, I do almost all of my banking through mobile native apps. My banks also have responsive sites, but even though they aren’t necessarily more secure, the native apps FEEL more secure, so I have a fabulous user experience.

Some companies have native apps that I will never ever download. For example, there are tons of stores that offer native apps, and if they aren’t stores I frequent often, I’m not emotionally invested enough in the company to download their native app. Their responsive website is where I’ll be shopping. If they don’t have a responsive website, they just lost my business.

The Big Picture

So let’s look at the big picture. What it really comes down to is that people maintaining websites want to enter their content once, and have it display across devices. The key to the future of mobile web design is creating content management systems that allow you to add content once and have it display in your responsive website, AND in your mobile native apps! And it just so happens that my completely awesome company Schoolwires has already created a CMS (Centricity 2) that does EXACTLY that. We worked with the San Diego Unified School District to develop a native app that pulls content from our existing CMS. So they literally enter once, and can display their content on desktop, tablet and mobile devices through a responsive site template, AND they can display it in their mobile native iOS & Android apps.

That in my humble opinion is the future of mobile and web design. Enter content once, display it everywhere.

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