Designing Better Tooltips For Mobile User Interfaces

Designing Better Tooltips For Mobile User Interfaces

In this tutorial, we show you how to design tooltips that will amplify your mobile designs and explain where mobile tooltips are most effective. Tooltips are powerful design patterns implemented to enhance the design experience by providing additional information precisely when users need it.

In this article, we show you how to design tooltips that will amplify your mobile designs and explain where mobile tooltips are most effective. Tooltips are powerful design patterns implemented to enhance the design experience by providing additional information precisely when users need it.

Ideally, mobile designs would be seamless with no need for technical documentation, online help, or tooltips. In reality, even the best designs can benefit from supplemental information. A tooltip provides this supplemental information when users tap an icon, image, hyperlink, or other elements in a mobile user interface (UI). For example:

Tooltip showing solid fill and radial fill on a mobile drawing app.

Concise tooltips explain the purpose of each drawing icon. (Image Source: Sketchbook mobile app, gold arrows added by the author) (Large preview)

By identifying the “Solid Fill” and “Radial Fill” functions, the tooltips shown above make it easy for users to find the drawing function they need. These tooltips appear in the proper context and are not obtrusive. A first-time user can easily understand the meaning of each icon while an experienced user is unlikely to find these tooltips distracting. In short, the designer has balanced the needs of new and seasoned users. The result of this successful balance is a set of tooltips that users will perceive as a natural extension of the design experience.

Too often, however, tooltips are an afterthought as shown in the following example of a mobile contrast checker:

Lengthy tooltip text on a mobile contrast checker.

Lengthy tooltip text obscures important information on the screen. (Image source: Stark) (Large preview)

While the explanation about the contrast checker is clear, the text is too long and covers important information on the screen. The result is a clunky tooltip that confuses as much as it elucidates. Avoiding troublesome tooltips requires thought and planning.

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