The key to creating successful and user-friendly mobile experiences is empathy. Not the mushy kind, but the pragmatic kind of empathy in which you put yourself in the user’s shoes and try to really understand their needs and wants.

An easy shorthand is to factor these wants and needs based on the questions familiar to journalism students: who, what, why, when, where, and how.


Who is your target user? Basic demographics of your user are a must, but try to go beyond that - think about their desires, ambitions, obstacles, pet peeves. Creating User Personas for each of your expected types of users can help answer this question.


What does your target user need / want that they cannot currently get at all or get easily? What are you considering to offer via mobile experiences to give the user what they want? What ever you are offering should be related to your business but should focus on what is important most to the user.


Why are users going to use your mobile solution? Your app should fulfill a need or want they have (Answers to the What Question). There needs to be a difference dramatic enough between using your app and the “next best thing” for them to bother remembering your URL or downloading your app.


When are your users most likely to productively engage? And how often? The “When” can be in absolute terms (e.g. between 7PM and 10PM on weekdays, etc.) or in relative terms (during a workout, an hour after dinner, etc.). You should consider times of engagements to create an optimal experience for your user.


Where are users most likely to engage with your app? Are there location-driven opportunities and challenges that exist? For example, monitoring swimming performance sounds great but not likely to be done with a regular smartphone without some waterproof peripherals. On the other hand, mobile comparison shopping is likely to happen in retail stores and might be facilitated by barcode scanning or QR code reading capability, etc.


How are you going to reach your users? Once you have characterized your users by understanding the answers to all of the questions above you can understand how to effectively reach them.

There’s just one complication: For each answer to the ‘Who’ Question, you need to answer each of the other questions. In other words, if you have two or more user types who represent distinctly different market segments, you have to answer all of the above questions for each of them to understand their needs in order to successfully create a great mobile experience that meets those needs.

This is Part 1 of a 3 part series. In Part 2, we get more concrete and go through an example of how to effectively answer these questions. In Part 3, we go through an example of a structure for starting the triage process by examining your cost/benefit analysis both for your business and for your target users.

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