Why is mobile usability important? 

  • It minimizes the digital divide: Making your unemployment insurance (UI) agency’s site usable on mobile devices is part of ensuring that it’s accessible to all claimants (and potential claimants), which promotes equity. Sites that aren’t easily usable on mobile disproportionately disadvantage people of color: according to a 2021 Pew Research Foundation Report, “Eight-in-ten White adults report owning a desktop or laptop computer, compared with 69% of Black adults and 67% of Hispanic adults. Eight-in-ten White adults also report having a broadband connection at home, while smaller shares of Black and Hispanic adults say the same – 71% and 65%, respectively.”  
  • It lessens burden on your staff: Many states have received complaints from claimants who can’t access their claim using a mobile device, or who have difficulty using the site on a mobile device. Ensuring your site is usable on mobile devices may minimize the volume of related customer-service calls and requests for assistance, freeing up staff to focus on other complex tasks.  
  • It’s a best practice: Claimants expect websites to be usable on their mobile devices – sites that aren’t may be viewed as outdated, inefficient, or irrelevant and may diminish the public’s trust in an organization. Just as claimants expect private-sector websites to be usable on mobile, they have the same expectation for government sites. For additional information, read "Sustaining public trust in government", published by Deloitte.

Ways to make your UI site usable on mobile   

There are three primary approaches to improving your claimants experience on mobile devices and their user experience (UX):  

  • Make iterative changes to your site. Improving your site’s mobile usability without a full redesign involves adding a “presentation layer” to your existing site using JavaScript or CSS. This presentation layer doesn’t change the content of your site, but rather updates the organization and styling of each webpage. State UI agencies that chose this option took between a few days and six months to make their sites usable on mobile devices. Your state’s timeframe will vary based on how many webpages you’re working with, the structure of the initial code, and the IT framework within which you’re working. State UI agencies often choose this option as a starting point before undertaking a full mobile redesign.  
  • Do a full mobile redesign of your site. This option requires the most time and effort – redesigns commonly take at least four months and are often undertaken as part of a larger modernization or UX update. A redesign involves reworking key interactions, reorganizing webpage content, conducting a plain-language review and testing, and changing styling to improve mobile usability. The result is that the redesigned site is fully optimized for mobile devices.  
  • Create native mobile apps for download in iOS App Store and the Android Play Store. The best native apps leverage the ability to send push notifications to remind claimants to, for example, record work searches or complete their weekly certification. A native app is coded, tested, and deployed separately from the site and is specific to each operating system (iOS or Android) and must be compatible with a wide range of devices; all of this results in native mobile apps being an expense incurred on top of making the website usable on mobile devices. If you choose to build native mobile apps, you’ll need to build them for both iOS and Android. Android is particularly important for reaching communities of color: data from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies “show that 66 percent of African Americans and 62 percent of Latinos use Android smartphones.”

Limitations of native apps  

When considering how best to make your UI content usable on mobile devices, you should take into account the limitations of native apps. This article published by Code for America, The Missed Opportunity in Online Benefits Applications: Mobile First, encourages state agencies to “(…) consider the value of native applications from a user perspective: most popular native phone applications are used weekly, if not daily. Very few users are willing to download a native application for a single use or for interactions that occur [infrequently or for a limited period of time]. Furthermore, native applications require a range of permissions and access to your phone, which implies a degree of trust between the developer and the user. Unfortunately, many segments of the population that apply for benefits have low trust, or at least low familiarity, in state health and human services agencies. They may balk at installing a clunky native application (and its necessary updates), or simply lack access to the fast, stable internet necessary to download native applications, which can take up significant phone storage space.” 

Focus on mobile usability, not native apps 

If your state agency or territory doesn’t already have a mobile version of your site, you’re encouraged to start by making your site usable on mobile. This option is quicker, easier, and less expensive than a full redesign or building a new native app, and it will provide claimants with the mobile experience.   

  • The changes needed for mobile usability are a subset of a full redesign. If you decide to do a full redesign later, the work done for mobile usability will not be wasted. You can work on these changes separately from the overall user experience changes that come with a redesign. Making only styling changes is beneficial because they can be done faster in development and quality assurance testing. 
  • Consider starting by making your initial claim application usable on mobile devices. The initial claim application is a claimant’s entry point into the UI system, and it’s critical that all potential claimants can access the application easily. If a claimant can’t access and easily complete the initial application, they’ll most likely give up on applying for benefits.   
  • After you’ve successfully deployed the mobile responsive initial claim application, consider starting work on the weekly certification application, and then appeals and fact-finding submissions. Finally, when both your initial claim and weekly certification applications are usable on mobile, you can address other webpages of the online claimant portal.