Mobile Website and Application Usability

Report PDF cover image

Whereas 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 8 series of usability studies with users in 4 countries (mostly the US, but also Australia, Hong Kong, and the UK) and presents a set of design recommendations intended to help designers create a good mobile user experience.

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


  • Activities commonly performed on mobile phones and types of content that mobile users expect
  • Relative advantages and disadvantages of mobile websites vs. mobile apps
  • Accessing mobile sites
  • Mobile apps
    • Differences between mobile platforms for apps
      • Physical buttons on different platforms
    • App discoverability: Making your app findable in an app store
    • What types of tasks make sense in a mobile app
    • Transitioning from a desktop app to a phone app
    • Hybrid apps
    • Immersive apps and skeuomorphism
  • Usability guidelines for mobile websites and apps
    • Homepage design and layout
    • Input and the touch screen
      • Designing for the touch screen
      • Touch targets: size, placement, affordances or signifiers
      • Making gestures usable
      • The usability of the horizontal swipe or horizontal navigation
    • Typing and forms
      • Mobile input-field design
      • Login and registration forms
    • Drop-down boxes and carousels
    • Icons and icon labels
    • Lists and scrolling
    • Modal dialogs and alerts
    • Reporting errors in forms or elsewhere
    • Search
    • Navigation:
      • Different types of navigation patterns: tab bars, menus
    • Content
      • Text content: readability and scannability
      • Images, animation, videos
    • Workflow: how to design and indicate different task steps on mobile
    • Notifications
    • Progress indicators
    • Instructions and help
    • Initial experience
    • Maps and location information
    • Transactions, banking, and shopping or e-commerce on mobile
  • What’s different about designing for feature phones


  • 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, iOS, 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

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.


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