Book Review: The Smarter Screen

Basics of Good Design

Despite increasing levels of technological innovation, many products still fail to achieve basic levels of good UX design. Users evaluate the quality of a Web site in less than a second and, knowing how they judge sites, we can use that knowledge to design better products.

We know there are some common ways in which users hold mobile devices—and design for those behaviors. Steven Hoober—author of the popular UXmatters column “How Do Users Really Hold Mobile Devices?”—tells us:

“People prefer to look at the center of the screen and have a higher chance of noticing the content which you place in the center [half to two-thirds] of the screen. Also, people are more accurate at touching the center of the screen and are less accurate along the edges—especially along the top and bottom. They are—maybe subconsciously?—aware of this, so they slow down at the edges, but are not especially … reluctant to tap in these areas; a bad design will simply encourage them to have more missed taps here.”

For more on this topic, see Steven’s articles:

Do not expect users to spend a lot of time interacting with other parts of the screen. Some old sayings tell us: “If you can’t beat them, join them.” “The trend is your friend.” Of course, be creative, but work within the fundamentals of known human capabilities and behaviors.

Mobile Apps as Motivators

In The Smarter Screen, Shlomo talks about our opportunity, as UX designers, to help people have better lives. One way in which we can do this is to provide good feedback. However, the trick is that, not only do we need to give the correct feedback, we also need to give it at the right time. For example, Shlomo discusses a study that showed basic financial education was ineffective in the long term. People know they need to be smart about their money and have some idea how to do this, but they’re not always able to apply that knowledge when they’re actually making important financial decisions. So Shlomo suggests that we remind people of that knowledge when they need it.

Giving another good example, Shlomo describes the limited impact of providing nutritional information about unhealthy foods. Even though Chili’s Awesome Blossom fried onion appetizer is very unhealthy and the nutrition information is readily available, the dish is still very popular. It makes people feel happy when they see it arrive at their table. So Shlomo suggests that, if a diner’s mobile device reminded him that it would take nine hours of walking to burn off those calories, he would perhaps choose a better option. He also notes that, even though people have goals, in the heat of the moment, they’ll choose what feels good in that moment. By designing personalized apps that help people to make an emotional connection with their own future, we give them the emotional strength to make better decisions. But we need to be helpful, not preachy or annoying.

Combining Behavioral Economics with UX Design

As UX designers, we can create designs that truly help people. In my Ask UXmatters column “Making the World a Better Place Through User Experience,” our panel of experts discussed their motivation to improve the lives of the many people who use the products they design. Shlomo says he is glad to have helped so many people through the Save More Tomorrow program, but he realizes that there are many others that the program has not reached. He really wants to help everyone and hopes that, by helping designers to create better mobile apps, he can help billions of people to make more empowering decisions.


Not only is Shlomo’s book an interesting read with lots of examples, it is a good resource and reference. I really like the questions section at the end of each chapter, as well as the summary of tools at the end of the book.

Shlomo has crafted an accessible bridge between the solid works of academia and the messy realities of commercial software applications. He challenges designers not to blindly follow his advice, but to thoroughly test their designs, then update them based on what they’ve learned.

Shlomo says, “All it takes is a few behavioral insights and a good programmer. If you’re not able to help your customers make better decisions, then someone else will.” Of course, things are a little more complicated than that, but the guiding principal is right. When creating designs, we must be mindful of both humans’ well-known behaviors and the benefits of the powerful technologies that are available to them. 

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