Jakob Nielsen’s latest Alertbox post contains some useful tips on mobile usability, using a Korean pop music site as an example and making ten design changes to improve it. 

These changes provide some useful tips for mobile sites in general, but are especially relevant publishers and aggregators like NewsNow to make their mobile interfaces more appealing and clickable to users. 

The AllKpop.com site that Nielsen references was optimised for mobile and was reasonably usable as it was, but by producing a design which more closely followed mobile usability principles, the result was a big improvement. 

Key takeaways from the article included: 

Use images with links

This provides more visual impact, but also helps users to quickly recognise an article that is interesting to them, as they recognise their favourite actor, football player etc. 

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This is something that the Taptu app does, though it could learn from the next point…

Allow users to read the full headline

Letting people see the full headline provides a stronger ‘information scent’. People can get more of a clue of the subject of the article, and if the headline is well written, it should get more clicks. 

Provide big targets for touch screen users

Clicking links can be tricky at times on mobile devices, so links need to be big enough so that users don’t have to be too precise. 

This is something that lets down the Guardian’s iPhone app and mobile site. Some of the links are too small and too close together, making it easy to click the wrong link: 

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Detect the user’s device and serve the relevant version of the site

Sending mobile users straight to the optimised version of the website make it easier for users. If the mobile and desktop versions have different URLs, then this makes it harder for users to fin the version they want. 

Provide enough space between navigation options

Misplaced clicks can be a major source of frustration for mobile users, as they mean time wasted loading the wrong page and being forced to backtrack. 

If there is clear space between links and menus, then users are less likely to make these mistakes. 

News aggregator NewsNow’s interface with lots of links works well enough on desktop version, where the cursor allows users to be more precise about where they click, but the close proximity of the links on the mobile site makes it harder to be accurate for touch screen users. 

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The BBC iPhone app does a better job of this, as navigational links at the top of the page are far enough apart, while the target for users to click and select an article is larger. 

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However, the BBC could learn from some of Nielsen’s other tips, such as providing more of an ‘information scent’ by adding a brief summary of each story, and perhaps reducing the number of articles displayed on the first screen to allow more room for this information.