Now that web page design has matured to the point where we can predict where an audience will find specific information such as search, about, and shopping carts, we are now able to go a step further and find out how touchscreens relate to visual patterns and ergonomics relating to ease of use. The groundwork for this is covered brilliantly by Josh Clark in the article How We Hold Our Gadgets. The main premise is that layout is becoming more involved with how our fingers are using our screens.
This can be taken a step further by overlaying the optimal areas where fingers access screens along with how the eye has traditionally interpreted visual information. Indeed, there are certain ways users will access their devices, such as using a single thumb predominantly with phones, and using index fingers to navigate with tablets, adding the thumb to zoom. Indeed, as mobile devices develop, the use of our fingers will evolve depending on the form.
As it turns out, the upper part of the tablet screen is often more difficult to access because of the device being held from the bottom. Conversely, the phone is more comfortable with the middle regions, since it’s more difficult for the thumb to bend in order to access the lower areas. This changes the semantics we are accustomed to for visual information, such as the positioning of the most important information at the top. For some users it is easier to navigate from the bottom of the screen, simply because that is where the hands are. I think we can expect to see more navigation menus floating at the bottoms of screens as time goes on
There is another aspect to this that is even more fascinating, and that is how the eye accesses information based on the subject matter. There are specific patterns the eye follows when viewing a restaurant menu as opposed to an instruction manual. So, this adds another dimension to the design of a page that is viewed on a mobile device. I’ve gone ahead and overlayed a diagram of the way a reader looks at a menu with the ease and difficulty of access on phone.
By some coincidence, the path concludes in the exact area where it is easiest to tap on the phone with the thumb. This could be a appropriate justification for the design of the ordering page for a restaurant taking online orders, which seems to be an increasing trend as convenience becomes an important determinator for sales and profitability.