Trends on Tuesday: Mobile Web Lessons From the CrowdSource Mobile Testing Program

Silhouette of business people in the middle of circuit board

Practice makes perfect. But in the mobile world, it’s testing that makes products better.

For federal agencies that have developed their own apps or mobile-friendly sites, the CrowdSource Mobile Testing Program offers a simple way to collect feedback on compatibility testing.

Since the program’s inception in March 2013, eight federal mobile websites (including responsive design) have been tested by 65 federal employees from 41 agencies. The benefits are twofold: agencies receive actionable feedback about their mobile websites, and testers gain valuable knowledge about mobile websites that they can share with their own agencies.

During each test cycle, testers log issues specific to the application or site being tested. Four themes have emerged from the logs, with lessons that are relevant to anyone developing mobile websites.

Shrinking the Screen Is Not Enough

Moving from a “desktop” presentation to responsive design isn’t always as simple as making the page smaller or changing the screen size.

  • Smaller mobile screens often mean smaller fonts and buttons that become hard to read and press.
  • Page content must be pared down to allow users to easily find what they are looking for. This can also have a positive impact on desktop user experience. Marissa Newhall, acting director of the Office of Digital Strategy and Communications at the Department of Energy (DOE), said optimizing Energy.gov’s content for mobile helped simplify the functionality of the desktop version. Newhall spoke about Energy.gov’s responsive implementation during DigitalGov’s webinar, Responsive Web Design Challenges.
  • Displaying data becomes problematic: on smaller screens, users cannot always tell where they are in the data. Our testing group came up with 8 Ways To Format Tables for Responsive Web Design, providing potential solutions to this issue.

Inspector Gadget Sometimes Has Malfunctions ****

Some “gadgets” that enhance websites are not fully functional on mobile devices.

  • Photo carousels present challenges that may result in poor user experience. On some devices, users are unable to scroll. On other devices, scrolling is changed from horizontal to vertical.
  • Debra Fioritto of the Defense Finance and Accounting Service pointed to PDFs as a content challenge during the DFAS responsive design implementation. Fioritto is working to make ‘mobile-first’ the standard for content development in her office.
  • Flash video has no functionality on iOS.

Mobile Comes in Many Sizes and Views

There are over 300 unique mobile screen resolutions that can display in both portrait and landscape.

  • The view or page layout and design that you see on the smaller smartphone screen may be totally different when viewed on a tablet.
  • Different screen resolutions need to be tested on different devices.

WiFi Can Disrupt Functionality

Mobile devices may behave differently as they switch between WiFi and cellular data networks.

Do you want to help us create more mobile lessons learned? Join in and sign up to help us virtually test BusinessUSA.gov at your leisure next week.

You can also submit your mobile Web application for a future test cycle. The CrowdSource Mobile Testing Program page provides information on how you can use this free service to test your products and is sponsored by the MobileGov Community of Practice.

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