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Attention to UX is the first rule of mobile apps: Seven tips

Intimate, efficient, secure are the watchwords for creating a great mobile payment app. These goals also apply to just about any UX on your to-do list. Here are seven tips: The Data Mill reports.

Skip Allums is the UX design lead of mobile financial at Monitise plc, a technology company based in London that's designing mobile payment features for the likes of the Royal Bank of Scotland Group, Barclays and Visa Europe.

"We're tasked with designing for an intimate interaction. By intimate, I mean we're dealing with people's hard-earned money," Allums said during a recent O'Reilly Media webcast on how to design for mobile payments. "Designing for this space is challenging because it requires not only great care and attention to detail, but also consistency across the various technology touch points on both sides of the conversation."

Challenging indeed. User experience (UX) will make or break a mobile app, and getting it right hinges on good communication and building trust, said Allums, author of the e-book Designing for Mobile Payment Experiences: Principles and Best Practices Mobile Commerce, published by O'Reilly.

Much of the advice from Allums, who was talking specifically about mobile payment apps, can be applied to any mobile app. Here are the tips from the presentation that are most relevant for CIOs.

1. Favor speed over spectacle

Design for efficiency. "Nothing we design should get in the way of or slow down the user from completing what it is they set out to do when they go shopping," Allums said. Filling out billing information or personal data forms can get in the way of that. Allums advises making those forms smart rather than lazy by maximizing the data users are providing as much as possible. Instead of asking users to input credit card type, use the first few digits of a credit card number to glean that information. Or instead of including fields for city and state, use a zip code API to help fill in the gaps.

2. Provide constant feedback

"As with any digital experience, feedback is key to making a customer feel comfortable with this way of transacting," Allums said. Sensory cues -- visual, auditory and even tactile -- can prove invaluable in providing that feedback. Softcard (formerly known as Isis Mobile Wallet) uses animation, vibration pulses and sound. Google Wallet produces a digital receipt that shows time, date, amount of purchase and the store the purchase was made in.

3. Users expect security

Build security into the different technology layers. That means encrypting data in motion, leveraging the device's operating system (OS) and bolstering the user interface (UI) with pincodes, passcodes or gesture patterns. When it comes to OS and UI, Allums said to keep these things front of mind:

  • Keep passcodes to four to five digits long.
  • Keep gestures to no less than four and no more than nine or 10 touch points.
  • Mask the code as the user enters it.
  • Ban obvious passcodes such as 1234 from use.
  • Don't use an operating system's keypad, "to avoid any devices that might have some kind of malicious software listening for input patterns," he said.
  • Create a time-out option, which will log the user out after a few minutes of inactivity.
  • Create an obvious path to a primary sign in method.
  • If implementing a biometric payment such as a fingerprint, include indicators so the user knows when and how to use it.

"Once they've unlocked the app, there are best practices when it comes to storing data about the user," Allums said. To protect the user from a potentially malicious app, don't store cardholder data in the app locally or in any kind of memory, he said. "This includes the card number itself, the name of the cardholder, expiration dates, security and CVV codes," he said. The same rule applies to personally identifiable information, which includes street address, city, state, zip code, birthdate, ID numbers, pictures of the user, voice and fingerprint data.

4. Design for error cases

Designers spend most of their time creating what Allums refers to as the "happy path" -- experiences where everything goes right. "I often argue that just as much time should be spent on edge cases and error cases," he said. "With payment interaction, any error the user encounters will bring an element of fear and mistrust. How your app handles these things can make or break the experience."

Feedback, again, is key, he said. "The same kinds of cues for successful payment interaction" can clarify unsuccessful moments as well. Sound, vibration and text can be used to alert the user that something has gone wrong or something isn't working right. And "it doesn't have to be dry communication," he said. LevelUp, for example, uses humorous error messages when the wrong passcode is used.

5. Avoid technical jargon

Allums said this is a "general UX guideline," and, no doubt, is familiar to anyone in IT. "Users need to see warm and familiar language that's concise and easy to understand," he said. Softcard, for example, scraps terms like "processing, please wait" to clearly explain its onboarding process.

6. If something looks odd, users won't trust it

"How an app looks and performs has a significant impact on the comfort of the user and the notion of whether the app is handling money in a secure manner," Allums said. "It's important for the UI to be consistent but also well executed and meeting platform guidelines."

7. Instruct merchants, support staff and consumers

Mobile payments are still a new technique, which means it will take time before this stuff becomes business as usual. Because of that, "users require a fair amount of instruction and guidance through the first few uses of the app," Allums said. On a first use, build in elements that provide tutorials or diagrams to help a user through the process. Create an FAQ and help section within the app but also online, and update these sections when necessary. "Structure this around what types of questions user might have, [including] how is the app secured, how does the app keep my price information encrypted," he said. But it's not just the user who needs to be educated; make sure everyone in the mobile payment pipeline -- from merchants and customer service agents on -- gets training.

Welcome to The Data Mill, a weekly column devoted to all things data. Heard something newsy (or gossipy)? Email me or find me on Twitter at @TT_Nicole.

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How will mobile payments have an impact on your company?
We're expecting mobile payments to have only the most minimal impact on our operations - customers might find us through their phones, but we're still expecting most deals to be made online or, in rare cases, in-person and with payments made via check. However, I do see mobile payments as being more valuable for companies that are aiming for a higher volume of sales and selling products in other fields - it's really just an extension of what people are already doing. I just hope brick-and-mortar stores can keep up - there are things you can learn in-person that you can't learn online.