Are there any existing research on what types of environmental factors impact on mobile device design that gives some strategies or information on how to make design decisions based on mobile device usage in uncontrolled environmental conditions?

A common example is the implementation of dark & light themes introduced to mobile application interfaces to cater for strong light conditions (e.g. full sunlight) or dim light (e.g. night time). Another example might be the use of mobile devices in very cold or dusty conditions (and how it affects touchscreen sensitivity).

Even just a general summary of environmental factors in outdoor environments that impact on user interface design would be a good starting point.

2 Answers 2


First of all, you should really consider the context of use as a whole when designing. In addition to physical properties, context has human factor and temporal dimensions.

For my (yet unreleased) master's thesis I did research on how context affects on usability, especially on how architectural space affects usability. There were some existing research on the subject.

In general about computing in context and context-awareness, there are Abowd et al.'s Towards a better understanding of context and context-awareness (PDF) and Schmidt's Ubiquitous Computing – Computing in Context.

Kim et al have studied how visual and auditory distractions affect on discovering usability problems.

First, people do not use Mobile Internet evenly in every possible context . Instead, their usage is heavily clustered around a few critical contexts, such as when they are not moving with only one hand available. Second, the type of goals that people have in their mind, the availability of hands, the movement of legs, and the level of auditory distraction have a significant impact on the usage of Mobile Internet. Finally, different usability problems are experienced more often according to different use contexts. Especially, availability of hands, movement of legs and the number of people around the user are found to have significant impacts on the kinds of usability problems.

Kim et al: An empirical study of the use contexts and usability problems in mobile Internet. (PDF)

Barnard et al studied how amount of lighting among other things affects on task completion.

This indicates that changes in lighting affected users in a fundamentally different manner than changes in motion. Apparently, lighting affected users in a slightly more superficial way, leading to decreased reading efficiency (noted by more instances of scrolling) and response selection speed, but not accuracy. It is important to note that all noteworthy differences were significant and not highly significant, indicating that the changes in motion are able to influence user behavior in a more dramatic way than changes in lighting.

Barnard et al: Capturing the effects of context on human performance in mobile computing systems (PDF)

Tsiaousis and Giaglis have evaluated environmental effects on usability.

The analysis showed that the most significant effect is that of visual motion (p =.001) whereas sound variance displayed the least significant effect. The effects of luminosity (p =.023) and sound semantics (p =.009) were also found to have a direct effect on usability.

Tsiaousis and Giaglis: Evaluating the effects of the environmental context-of-use on mobile website usability.

  • 2
    +1 Looks like you are well versed in the research space on this topic. Thanks for your answer!
    – Michael Lai
    Apr 11, 2018 at 1:17

I am not sure but I think this might be of some help a few years back i watched this video from cta conference and he has a slide for environment factors i think like considering a situation when people are accessing an app while waiting at a subway or standing in a train.

Here are some links -https://calltoactionconference.unbounce.com/speakers/2015-timash/ https://personal.cis.strath.ac.uk/sotirios.terzis/classes/52.504/2010/GuidelinesGongTarase.pdf

  • There wasn't any specific details in the PDF document but there were some references that were from the early 2000 that might not be applicable anymore. The link to the conference had a number of videos, so which one(s) did you think have the information about the environmental factors?
    – Michael Lai
    Apr 10, 2018 at 6:08
  • I had seen some factors in Tim's video. Sorry if i could not be of any help. Apr 10, 2018 at 6:38
  • 1
    bit.ly/2H6u7DH This book states factors like moving state, weather, temperature, illumination etc. See if it helps. Apr 10, 2018 at 6:48

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