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[Design Forum] Scrutiny of ‘homo mobilians’ key to designing mobile world

Like in the real world, there are rules in the mobile world of smartphones and tablets. The size of images, line spacing, location of buttons ― everything is carefully designed to help users find what they want more conveniently and efficiently.

The IT industry is now awash with research and analysis on user interface and user experience.

UI or UX designers design the mobile universe to enable users to easily find information on their 6-inch screens.

Studying ‘homo mobilians’

Understanding “homo mobilians,” or people who use mobile devices, is the key to designing user-oriented mobile UI and UX.

Analyzing mobile users’ behaviors such as gestures and habits helps build a user-friendly UI and UX.

For instance, people who design the UI and UX of mobile map services that provide directions, one of the most frequently used services on smartphones, follow the users closely through a process called “shadow tracking.”

They observe what kind of information the users want and the patterns in their use of the service.

“Considering the large number of people who search for directions on smartphones while on the move, we show the estimated walking time along with the directions when they look for a place within 2 kilometers from where they are,” said Kim Ki-sung, chief of Daum Kakao’s Contents UX Division.

For example, if a user who has approved tracking the location of her mobile phone searches for restaurants in Itaewon within walking distance, a map marking famous eateries in the area is shown with a list under it of the restaurants’ names, reviews by other users, addresses, phone numbers and the walking time.

By clicking on the “reset current location” button, she can see how much longer she has to walk.

When someone searches for driving routes, Daum Kakao’s map service provides information on parking lots near the destination, offering customized UX.

Images, font sizes, spacing

The sizes of images, fonts and thumbnails (reduced-size versions of pages or images) on a mobile device screen are all results of meticulous calculation.

During an overhaul of its mobile UX last August, Daum Kakao greatly modified the screen design of its news, blog, online cafe, bulletin board, knowledge, website and most-viewed sections.
Daum Kakao’s user experience team designs an optimized mobile user environment by “shadow tracking” users and analyzing user patterns and mobile communication means. (Daum Kakao)
Daum Kakao’s user experience team designs an optimized mobile user environment by “shadow tracking” users and analyzing user patterns and mobile communication means. (Daum Kakao)

Image thumbnails were previously placed on the left, with the document title and the text summary on the right. Daum Kakao changed this by putting title and summary on the left and thumbnail on the right, considering the fact that people look at the screen from left to right. The rationale behind this change is that the first thing users want to check after they press the search button is whether the title and content of the search results match the search purpose.

In the same sense, the dividing lines between the different sections (people, news, image) were highlighted to make them less straining to the eye and make it easier for the users to recognize which section they are looking at in the long list of search results on the small screens.

The menus related to the search results were arranged below the search box in a bid to help users more easily access the information they need.

“We make scenarios for the countless number of cases varying from what kind of routes the users take (to reach Daum Kakao’s mobile pages) to how they navigate and test them,” said Baik Sung-won, head of Daum Kakao’s UX team.

“Then we keep revising the service designs as we watch the usage indicators.”

Nonverbal communication

The prerequisite of communication through smartphones is that it should be concise while sufficiently conveying the intended emotion and information.

This is why images are more important than words in mobile communication. Nonverbal communication using emoticons was therefore a creative way to overcome the limits of UI.

Likewise, Kakao Story was born to meet users’ demands for a story communication tool.

People were beginning to find existing social networking services rather dry and were looking for a means to send messages in a more compact and fun way.

Kakao Story was the brainchild of an in-house venture program called “24K,” one of Daum Kakao’s service development methods in which people come up with ideas and materialize the prototypes of their ideas within 24 hours.

Three teams competed with their own prototypes and the result is today’s Kakao Story.

“In addition to the use of emoticons, diverse means of nonverbal communication such as conversing by drawing pictures will be available in the future,” said Lim Jung-hoon, head of Daum Kakao’s Story Design Cell.

By Hwang Yu-jin and Kim So-hyun, The Herald Business