User Experience for Mobile Applications and Websites

3rd edition

Report PDF cover image


Although there are more smartphone users worldwide than desktop and laptop users, the usability of mobile websites and applications is still well behind the usability of desktop websites. This report documents our findings from 15 series of usability studies with users in 6 countries (mostly in the USA, but also in Australia, Hong Kong, The Netherlands, Romania, and the UK). It presents a set of design recommendations intended to help designers create a good mobile user experience.

This 506-page report offers 336 design guidelines based on our usability research. Discussions and more than 700 screenshot illustrations supplement our findings.


  • Activities commonly performed on mobile phones and types of content that mobile users expect
  • Mobile limitations and strengths
  • App functionality: Which types of tasks make sense in a mobile app
  • Relative advantages and disadvantages of mobile websites vs. mobile apps (hybrid or native)
  • Benefits and drawbacks of responsive or adaptive web design vs. mobile-dedicated sites
  • Accessing mobile sites and making them findable
  • Making apps findable and discoverable
    • Advertising mobile apps on websites
    • Icons, names, and descriptions of mobile apps
    • App discoverability: Making your app findable in an app store
    • Dealing with multiple apps from the same company
  • Differences between mobile platforms for apps
    • Physical buttons on different platforms
    • Transitioning from a desktop app to a phone app
    • Hybrid apps
  • Skeuomorphism and flat design
  • Logo and company name
  • Icons and icon labels
  • Controls
    • Spinners, sliders, and other selectors
    • Carousels and carousel cues
    • Button and button placement
  • Feedback
    • Errors and alerts; reporting errors in forms and elsewhere
    • Notifications
    • Modal dialogs and alerts
    • Progress indicators
  • Orientation
  • Input and the touchscreen
    • Touch targets: size, placement, affordances or signifiers
    • Gestures
    • Making gestures usable
    • Usability of the horizontal swipe or horizontal navigation
    • Gesture ambiguity
    • Typing and mobile input-field design
  • Forms
    • Workflow and form steps
    • Submit buttons
    • Login and registration forms
  • Navigation and IA on mobile; how to make navigation accessible and discoverable
    • Menus: Dropdown boxes, accordions, overlays, sliding menus, pie menus  
    • Tab bars, navigation bars, hamburger and other navigation menus, navigation hubs
    • How to deal with deep hierarchies on mobile
    • The Back button
    • Hidden navigation: More and action overflow
  • Lists and scrolling
    • View All, pagination, and infinite scrolling
  • Search, filter, sort
    • Scoped search
    • Presenting search results
    • Presenting and submitting filters
  • Content
    • Text content: readability and scannability
    • Headlines and summaries
    • Related content
    • Images and videos
    • Dealing with long pages: Mini-IA and in-page tables of contents
  • Location information, maps, locator forms
  • Instructions and help: instructional overlays, coach marks, contextual tips
  • Initial experience (onboarding)


  • Checklist of 336 specific design recommendations:
    • Review your mobile user experience for these 336 items, and you will discover many things that need improvement
    • 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  complete tasks
  • successfully or unsuccessfully
  • More than 700 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 in the Third Edition?

This third edition of the mobile report is a completely revised and reorganized version of our second edition that reflects the changes in the mobile landscape. The additions in this report reflect many of the new mobile topics and patterns that emerged or were revived in the recent years since the second edition. Additions include: responsive design and how it relates to mobile design in general, findability of apps, flat design, accordions and overlays, hamburger menus, gestures, pagination and infinite lists, flattening navigation hierarchies for mobile, secondary navigation and submenus, in-page tables of contents and page mini-IA, instructional overlays, and more.

USA Today article about the first edition

Who Should Read This Report?

  • Those responsible for a company's or organization's mobile strategy
  • Mobile designers and UX researchers

Research Method

The information in this report is based on usability research with mobile users 20-50+ years old. We used 3 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
  • Design reviews

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, and Romania.


Research Reports

Training Courses


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