Mobile Development
Product Design

Why Usability and Accessibility Matter in App Development

people using mobile apps with good usability and accessibility

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What Is Usability in Mobile Apps?

Usability can be defined as the ease with which users can comfortably move around an app and achieve the goals it promises. Usability is also directly connected with how engaging and visually appealing the app is. You can think of usability as that pleasant feeling of efficiency when you navigate seamlessly through your favorite app.

Good usability, as described by Nielsen Norman Group, is characterized by five basic elements:

  • Learnability: Can users quickly learn how to navigate the app?
  • Efficiency: After grasping how to navigate the app, how easy it is for users to achieve tasks?
  • Memorability: How easy it is for users to use the app after not using it for a while?
  • Errors: How many and what are the errors that users make within the app? Is it easy for users to recover from errors?
  • Satisfaction: Does using the app generate positive feelings in the users?

Usability is extremely important online. Great websites and applications are those where users can navigate intuitively without wondering how and where to find things they want.

The statistics for bad usability are shattering:

  • 62% of users say they won’t purchase from the same brand after a bad mobile experience.
  • 88% of online users claim they are less likely to engage with a website that leaves them with a disappointing web experience.

Why Usability Matters?

Usability determines how good or bad your application is perceived by users. When your users struggle to achieve the goals the app promises efficiently, they will probably look to your competition to get what your app failed to deliver.

Remember, very few apps on the market are unique, without alternatives available. Needless to say, when alternatives are abundant, customers won’t give it a second thought before migrating to competition. So good usability is the key to retaining and attracting users.

Good usability examples:

  • simple, easily digestible content (brevity is key!)
  • removal of clutter additions (e.g., redundant pages, buttons, links)
  • minimalist forms (ask for only the minimum amount of information: enough to complete a transaction)
  • including a progress bar for steps left to complete an action
  • flagging errors and offering easy fixes (e.g., offer corrections when misspelling a name)
  • simple, intuitive designs
  • providing auto-completion feature and contextual information to help users fill in forms efficiently
autocomplete forms with autosuggest options
Autocomplete and autosuggest form features.
minimalist forms reduce cognitive load
Minimalist forms reduce cognitive load.
A progress bar gives users a clear path left to complete an action.

What Is Accessibility in Mobile Apps?

Accessibility means creating websites and mobile applications in a way that makes them usable by people with:

  • varying levels of technical literacy
  • disabilities
  • legacy hardware or slow internet

When referring to accessibility, think of it as making your website or app available to all, regardless of their abilities or tech setup. Great accessibility creates equal engagement opportunities for everyone who uses your app or visits your website.

Good accessibility features:

  • magnifiers to enlarge content
  • voice readers
  • alternative text to images
  • lightweight app alternatives for users with a slower Internet connection or outdated hardware

Why Accessibility Matters?

Accessibility means creating an inclusive environment that invites everyone to participate. With good accessibility, you’re giving everyone access to your content, regardless of limitations.

mobile app color vision testing
Checking for color vision deficiency lets all users experience equally good UX.

A by-product of developing with accessibility in mind is the implementation of good design practices that translate into positive digital experiences for all users.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that one in four adults, roughly 61 million people in the US, have a disability. It is further estimated that 15% of the whole population has some form of disability, with 54% of disabled adults actively using the Internet.

But many websites still have multiple errors (as defined by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines WCAG). Ranging from level A to AAA, the guidelines determine the extent to which the content of a website is understandable to a person with a disability.

When you look at these statistics, including accessibility in your projects from the get-go becomes a necessity.

And lastly, UsableNet tracked federally filed lawsuits citing web accessibility issues and found a 181% increase in cases from 2017 to 2018.

Pro tip: AppStore promotes applications that have a high degree of accessibility.

Common Usability and Accessibility Issues

Poor Color Contrast

Contrast issues are notorious in a plethora of apps and websites available. When creating an app, designers are often tempted to use dollops of gray and its shades all throughout the application. This bad practice leads to poor contrast where users are likely to miss or intentionally not read gray-colored content.

poor color contrast example
Grays make the eye work harder to digest the content.

No Clearly Outlined Buttons

The familiarization with the in-app interface determines the user’s satisfaction and experience. However, many apps fail to provide clear distinctions between buttons or clickable elements and the surrounding area. The effect is that the user gets frustrated by not being able to intuitively achieve the goal promised by the app.

e-commerce CTA button example
Both CTA buttons are clearly visible and have a distinct hierarchy.

Inconsistent Experiences

App designers too often fail to ensure consistency throughout the design, especially in big projects where many teams work on multiple elements of the app.

For example, one designer responsible for the menus can style a button green and a designer working on the shopping cart can use blue for the same button. This results in applications where action elements are different in various parts of the app, making it difficult for users to familiarize themselves with the interface.

ricardo mobile app consistent in-app experience
In Ricardo app all interactive elements are marked with an orange color.

Forgoing Platform-Specific Patterns

Just a few years ago, the same app for iOS and Android was clearly different, with platform-specific layout and design. Currently, we’re moving toward more uniform apps that don’t have this many differences between platform releases. For example, apps built with Flutter will have the same designs for both platforms.

But even though we’re increasingly embracing uniform applications, there is platform-specific familiarization that has to be maintained to provide users with impeccable UX. Both Android and iOS have their ingrained patterns that users are familiar with—changing those patterns might result in bad user experience.

human interface guidelines by iPhone
Human Interface Guidelines is a standard design pattern provided by Apple.

Best Usability and Accessibility Practices in Product Development

  • When developing with accessibility in mind, remember about feedback for the user. It doesn’t have to be only a visual cue but also sound or vibration. Let the user know their action has a noticeable reaction.
  • To make it easier for users to understand how your app works, you can consider implementing animations describing the app’s flow. The animations can depict how to achieve the app's goal easiest and fastest.
  • When designing an app, adding a one-hand operation feature might boost user experience. Place the most important buttons under the thumb for easier reach.
  • Include voice operation in your app to facilitate usage and convenience. In 2020 and beyond, we can observe a rising trend for the implementation of voice operation.
  • To consistently improve the UX of your app, introduce A/B testing for every major change in the app’s design. A/B testing will give you information how the change influences user in-app behavior and help you further pursue the direction in which to tweak the design.
  • Developing an app, consider how the app will change if the user chooses various accessibility features provided by the OS (Android and iOS). This is important because when a user chooses bigger fonts for the whole system, the app can become unreadable or difficult to use.
  • Research your audiences to find the best usability features that help them effectively use your app. You can do surveys or interviews to get a better idea of what could work.
  • Use design systems containing one source of truth for all elements that make up an app. A design system has examples with colors, fonts, sizes, patterns. This will help you avoid inconsistencies in the design.

Treat Accessibility and Usability as a Priority to Deliver Excellent and Inclusive Digital Experiences

Usability and accessibility can either make your app take the market by storm or be a source of frustration for your users and a significant blow to your company’s reputation and wallet. That’s why placing emphasis on usability and accessibility from the nascent stages of design is critical.

Tech giants such as Google, Microsoft, Apple, or Facebook have been actively promoting and encouraging implementing accessibility features across their digital ecosystems. Their services and products can be used by anyone, which has greatly contributed to the global success of these companies.

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