Josh Clark – Designing Tapworthy Mobile Apps

Sean Carmichael

April 21st, 2011


“Thinking mobile” goes beyond scaling down an existing app to fit a smaller screen or making decisions about what content to include. The ability of an app to delight its users is largely dependent on the context in which it is being used. Because the app can be used anywhere by nature and the interface is manipulated with thumbs and fingers, there are much more than just aesthetics to consider.

Josh Clark is a designer and author of the book Tapworthy. In his Virtual Seminar, Mobile Design: Designing Tapworthy Mobile Apps, Josh suggests that designing for mobile is becoming more a question of ergonomics and industrial design. Our audience had so many questions that Josh couldn’t answer them all during the session. So, he met with Adam Churchill to discuss those remaining questions for this podcast.

Here’s an excerpt from the podcast.

“…you really are doing kind of an exercise in industrial design. All these touch-screen devices, they really are blank before you turn them on, before you fire up an app.

So what that means is that it’s really waiting for you to impose an interface on it. And because it’s a physical device, something that’s meant to be worked with hands and fingers, your interface becomes physical, too. So you have to think about where do your fingers and thumbs fall naturally?

And it also means kind of following industrial design precepts. It actually turns a lot of our preconceptions about what design should be for the web or for software in general, literally upside down. We’re used to having primary controls and navigation at the top of the screen where it’s sort of most visually prominent.

It turns out in mobile that the best place to put it ergonomically is at the bottom. If you’re holding the phone in one hand, as we typically are, that means that you’re basically using just your thumb to tap through this. And sort of the comfortable area for the thumb is on the opposite side of the screen and at the bottom. So if you’re holding it in your right hand that means that the most comfortable area to tap is the left side and left corner of the screen, which means [the bottom] is a great place to put primary controls.

And this, like I said, follows sort of a basic principle of industrial design, that you always want to put controls at the bottom and display at the top, for the simple reason that you don’t want your fingers covering the content.

It really means that the primary area for controls and sort of the main buttons are at the bottom of the screen instead of at the top. And that’s, I think, one of the big takeaways. While it’s common sense, it doesn’t necessarily hit people while they’re working on their designs, usually in a desktop setting…”

Tune in to the podcast to hear Josh cover these additional points:

  • Should mobile websites actually feature different content from their big screen counterparts?
  • What’s your opinion on native iPhone applications versus web applications?
  • What do you think of using web technologies like HTML and JavaScript, as examples, for cross platform native apps?
  • How does the difference in the sizes of Android devices affect the optimal function?
  • What do I need to consider for left handed users?
  • What differences are there when it comes to designing for tablets?
  • What impact does loading performance have on an app user experience?

Recorded: April, 2011
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2 Responses to “Josh Clark – Designing Tapworthy Mobile Apps”

  1. Mobile doesn’t mean limited | Tufuga Media Says:

    […] is dashing from the airport to his taxi and needs to find the location of the hotel…”.  As Josh Clark mentioned in the UIE Podcast these on-the-go use cases are fun to build towards, but are a terribly incomplete picture. While […]

  2. Mobile Design: Content and the Great Web-based vs. Native Debate | Wood Street News & Blog Says:

    […] This article is an excerpt from an interview that Adam Churchill had with Josh Clark. You can hear the full interview on their podcast or read their […]

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