Recently, it's been reported that mobile providers have decided to change the pricing models of their data plans (namely Verizon and AT&T, but perhaps even others; charge per GB of data used). Personally, I have no problem with this line of thinking—it's capitalism, it's how it works and that's fine. But as a UX designer, I can't help but think for the sake of the end-user (naturally).

Realistically, it's relatively hard to use 2GB of traffic for the average mobile user; I'm fully aware of that. However, who's to say that may not be a reality one day? Which begs to question:

  • What if your app/website was viewed by it's users as a means to erode their data allowance?
  • Do you think they would continue using your product?
  • What can we do to eliminate the possibility, if there is one, for a user to think we're wasting the resources that they're paying for?
  • Does this mean that our products should become even simpler, requiring smaller loads and shorter experiences?

I'm curious to know what the thoughts are of like-minded individuals. Does this subject hold water, and if not, can we perhaps pretend that it does?

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    It's an interesting question, I think what we'll see instead is a trend toward low cost personal hot spot-esque providers. Cell phone companies are trying to milk the trend of consumers using mobile devices over traditional connections. I don't blame them, but I think it's only a matter of time before low cost providers step in to take a chunk of that change.
    – Ben
    Jul 18, 2012 at 18:58
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    I guess this is a US-centred question, although that doesn't make it invalid! Most UK mobile providers have been charging by quantity for a very long time. Jul 19, 2012 at 17:09
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    this is something to be considered for non-mobile sites as well! In canada at least, a lot of the major internet providers are capping bandwidth. It's not hard at all to go through 2 gb in a month. I used 250 mb in 4 days. and i wasn't streaming anything, just uploading a few images and spending time on facebook.
    – Patricia
    Jul 19, 2012 at 18:54
  • @AndrewLeach Well, whether it's the US or another country, I agree that the question should be considered valid regardless. I think it should start becoming a bigger part of the dialogue, that's all.
    – Vin Burgh
    Jul 19, 2012 at 19:00
  • It's a good question. There have been various stories in the UK media about people incurring massive call charges on smartphones when they take them out of the European Union, as they don't realise that some apps continue to 'call home' even when they are not being used.
    – PhillipW
    Jul 20, 2012 at 9:02

3 Answers 3


For most users, web sites and applications don't consume the lion's share of data - media does (especially streaming video). And when it comes to plain websites, most users are naive about bandwidth anyway. What they will notice, however, is a slow loading website, and that's the real reason you need to profile your page size.

  • I'll agree that some users are naive, but not most.
    – Vin Burgh
    Jul 19, 2012 at 19:02
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    @VinnyBurgh - what makes you say that? I've done user testing with CMSes, and I've rarely seen a user with a strong sense of what constitutes a 'large' file. Non-technical folks rarely talk about the sizes of webpages, and even business folk in the IT world usually lack a grasp of what's big and small. Do you have any evidence that your users in particular are aware of bandwidth issues? Jul 19, 2012 at 19:46
  • You have a point, however, one can argue that the people you are referring to are very much aware of how large a file is but are rather apathetic. Just because people don't walk down the street talking about file-size doesn't mean they're oblivious. It's not casual conversation, afterall.
    – Vin Burgh
    Jul 20, 2012 at 20:35

"simpler" is a bit of a loaded term. I think perhaps it's better to say "not unnecessarily complex".

The answer to that, of course, is "of course". One should never make the experience unnecessarily complex. But note that the complexity of the UX isn't necessarily correlated to the bandwidth used. A really easy to use UI might actually require some sophisticated javascript and such.

So, I think a better question--in terms of data-plans--is to ask:

Should we be aware of bandwidth concerns given recent data plan pricing changes?

The answer is yes, but not just due to the cost. We always want to make our web sites and applications as small as we can to make them fast and responsive. It costing the end-user less money is just icing on the cake.


The honest answer is it depends.

Can you provide a simplified experience which will still serve the purpose of the user without using too much bandwidth ? If that is possible,provide the user with the feature to optionally turn off features which might use too much bandwidth while providing a simplified but effective interface which still gets the work done. E.g. Google currents does this well as by default it does not download the images of the news articles but does allow the user to set the option to change the setting if needed.

If your application provides a service which will use a lot of bandwidth (e.g. streaming videos, music), provide a disclaimer that the service might need a lot of bandwidth and users are responsible for keeping track of the data usage.( I believe Pandora does this).

However if you really want to be super careful in the latter case,you could work on designing a feature which keep tracks of the data usage and stops the service when a predefined limit has been set (e.g. 3G watchguard)

  • Display toggles aren't such a bad idea, hm...
    – Vin Burgh
    Jul 23, 2012 at 17:17

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