Wednesday February 3, 2021 By David Quintanilla
Designing Better Tooltips For Mobile User Interfaces — Smashing Magazine

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Eric is the founding father of UX Tradition Works. He has spent the previous 20 years main UX analysis and design tasks for Fortune 500 corporations within the finance, …
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Tooltips are highly effective design patterns carried out to boost the design expertise by offering extra data exactly when customers want it. Generally, nonetheless, tooltips are obtrusive, particularly on cellular units the place out there area is at a premium. On this article, we present you tips on how to design tooltips that can amplify your cellular designs and clarify the place cellular tooltips are handiest.

Ideally, cellular designs could be seamless without having for technical documentation, on-line assist, or tooltips. In actuality, even the perfect designs can profit from supplemental data. A tooltip supplies this supplemental data when customers faucet an icon, picture, hyperlink, or different components in a cellular consumer interface (UI). For instance:

Tooltip showing solid fill and radial fill on a mobile drawing app.
Concise tooltips clarify the aim of every drawing icon. (Picture Supply: Sketchbook cellular app, gold arrows added by the creator) (Large preview)

By figuring out the “Strong Fill” and “Radial Fill” features, the tooltips proven above make it simple for customers to search out the drawing operate they want. These tooltips seem within the correct context and are usually not obtrusive. A primary-time consumer can simply perceive the that means of every icon whereas an skilled consumer is unlikely to search out these tooltips distracting. Briefly, the designer has balanced the wants of latest and seasoned customers. The results of this profitable stability is a set of tooltips that customers will understand as a pure extension of the design expertise.

Too usually, nonetheless, tooltips are an afterthought as proven within the following instance of a cellular distinction checker:

Lengthy tooltip text on a mobile contrast checker.
Prolonged tooltip textual content obscures vital data on the display screen. (Picture supply: Stark) (Large preview)

Whereas the reason concerning the distinction checker is evident, the textual content is simply too lengthy and covers vital data on the display screen. The result’s a clunky tooltip that confuses as a lot because it elucidates. Avoiding troublesome tooltips requires thought and planning.

How To Design Efficient Tooltips

The important thing to designing tooltips that match seamlessly into the general design is to plan for them early within the design course of. Particularly, designing helpful tooltips requires:

  • Correct timing
    Listening to tooltips and associated design methods in the course of the sketching and early prototyping phases.
  • Correct implementation
    Fastidiously contemplating tooltip context, placement, and readability.

Timing refers to when in the course of the design course of to think about tooltips. By referring to the broadly use design sprint, developed by Jake Knapp, we will establish the best phases within the design course of to make choices about design components like tooltips.

Knapp’s dash course of consists of mapping out the issue, sketching options, selecting one answer, constructing a prototype, after which testing that prototype. Briefly, generate an concept, construct it, and take a look at it. The next graphic exhibits Knapp’s five-day design dash course of. I’ve added textual content to the sketching and prototype days to indicate when designers and builders ought to begin fascinated by tooltips.

Sprint map from Google Ventures Design Sprint.
Google Ventures Design Dash. (Picture Supply: The Sprint Book, gold textual content added by the creator) (Large preview)

Sketching is the logical place to start when contemplating tooltips as a result of potential factors of confusion emerge because the format and preliminary content material take form. As a result of preliminary sketches usually don’t embrace full or detailed content material, it’s not essential to establish each doable tooltip and even to incorporate all designated tooltips at this stage. Relatively, the purpose is to establish elements of the UI the place a well-designed tooltip would assist customers full the duty at hand or extra simply perceive content material.

For instance, a tooltip on a subject label makes it simpler to fill out the shape whereas additionally lowering data-entry errors. If it’s not but clear whether or not a tooltip is critical, merely embrace a callout with a query as proven within the determine beneath.

rough sketch of a form with a callout pointing to a field where a tooltip might be useful.
Sketching stage (Tuesday in Jake Knapp’s Design Dash) with callout asking if a tooltip could be helpful (Writer’s drawing). (Large preview)

The callout proven above serves as a reminder for the crew to debate earlier than constructing the prototype. Within the “CVV” instance above, the crew may determine that one persona represents customers who’re unfamiliar with monetary phrases and abbreviations. For this group, a CVV tooltip would possible be helpful and will simply be integrated into the prototype as proven beneath.

Prototype of a form with a tooltip
Prototype stage (Thursday in Jake Knapp’s Design Dash) with data icon and tooltip proven in hover state. (Picture supply: Writer’s drawing) (Large preview)

Contemplating the necessity for tooltips and different supplemental data early within the design course of will increase the possibility of growing a helpful and usable prototype.


The growing complexity of cellular apps and restricted area on cellular units pose a big problem to designing efficient tooltips.

Designers can meet this problem by specializing in:

  • Context
    Test, examine, and re-check the context for each tooltip. What may seem apparent to you because the designer may simply confuse a first-time consumer. The precept of attending to context applies to all facets of UX and UI design. It’s particularly vital for tooltips as a result of their vital brevity will go away customers confused if the context isn’t clear.
  • Placement
    Tooltips must be outstanding and simple to search out however shouldn’t hinder vital data on the display screen.
  • Readability and brevity
    Edit every tooltip for readability and brevity. As many editors inform their writers: “Lower, reduce, and reduce some extra.” It’s okay to write down longer tooltip textual content in early iterations so long as you keep in mind to maintain enhancing and condensing for readability.

The tooltip within the following instance fulfills these standards by offering important data with out disrupting the stream within the cellular kind.

Field-level tooltip text in the Mint mobile app.
The sphere-level tooltip is properly positioned and simple to grasp. (Picture supply: Mint cellular app) (Large preview)

As a result of area is proscribed on cellular units, readability, brevity, and placement are important. The tooltip on the Mint registration display screen proven above is properly designed. It’s clear, concise, and seems immediately beneath the zip code subject when customers faucet the knowledge icon.

The Sq. cellular app proven beneath supplies one other instance of fine tooltip design by serving to bi-lingual customers choose their most popular language.

Tooltip showing English and Spanish language options on the Square mobile app.
Tooltip displaying language choices for the Sq. cellular app. (Picture supply: Sq. cellular app) (Large preview)

The “English/Español” tooltip proven above is evident, transient, and correctly positioned. When customers faucet the flag icon or “English” textual content, a tooltip seems with the choice to pick out “English” or “Español.”

Properly-placed tooltips improve visible design by offering quick, particular explanations when customers want them. Within the instance above, customers who’re searching for data in different languages know instantly that they’ll select between English or Spanish for this web site. The language tooltip helps native Spanish audio system who may learn English properly however really feel extra snug utilizing the Sq. app of their native language.

Utility is crucial however not adequate. Efficient tooltips must be discreet to the purpose that customers barely register their presence. Customers solely miss tooltips after they aren’t there. This method to tooltips is an instance of the long-standing view that nice design is invisible. From this attitude, customers by no means discover the design. As an alternative, they really feel engaged and simply full the duty at hand.

The tooltip proven beneath on the Google Maps app is simple to search out but subtly built-in into the present design:

  • The icon for muting/unmuting seems in a vertical row of icons.
  • The placement of those icons on the best makes them simple to see with out obscuring vital data on the map.
  • The mute/unmute icon follows the similar color and style scheme because the search icon instantly above.
Tooltip explaining the meaning of unmuted on the Google maps mobile app.
Google Maps cellular app: The ‘Unmuted’ tooltip seems when customers faucet the sound icon to shift from mute to unmute. (Picture supply: Google maps cellular app, gold arrow, spotlight, and daring textual content added by the creator) (Large preview)

This Google map tooltips works as a result of:

  • The context is evident. The choice to toggle on sound (earlier than pulling out of the driveway) is beneficial as a result of it’s simpler and safer to hearken to instructions whereas driving than to have a look at the cellphone.
  • The placement of the mute/unmute icon in a bunch of current icons makes it simple to see with out obscuring vital data on the map.
  • The one-word tooltip is transient, and its that means is evident.

In distinction, the tooltip proven within the MyZone health cellular app beneath is poorly designed.

Tooltip explaining maximum heart rate on the MyZone Fitness mobile app.
Tapping ‘175 Max HR’ shows the tooltip proven above proper. (Picture supply: MyZone cellular app, gold highlights added by creator) (Large preview)

Whereas the context is evident, there are issues with the MyZone app tooltip:

  • The placement is clunky as a result of it obscures vital data.
  • The tooltip textual content is prolonged, and the reason of “Max HR” is complicated.

To accommodate this prolonged textual content and the distracting inexperienced bar on the high, the tooltip is unnecessarily massive. The result’s a tooltip that’s not discrete; it doesn’t really feel like a pure extension of the design.

Poor placement and complicated explanations are usually not the one issues customers expertise with cellular tooltips. A surprisingly widespread problem is the redundant tooltip. The tooltip instance beneath is a part of an illustration of cascading type sheets (CSS) clean animation. The animation works and the illustration itself is evident; the issue is that the tooltip merely repeats the button textual content.

Tooltip repeats button label text.
Redundant tooltip: Tooltip textual content repeats button label textual content. (Picture supply: Omar Dsooky) (Large preview)

Within the article about CSS animation, the illustration proven above is just for demo functions. Nonetheless, the picture could be extra helpful with a transparent and helpful tooltip. As used right here, the tooltip isn’t helpful.

Whereas redundant tooltips are ineffective, tooltips that seem within the fallacious a part of the UI are particularly problematic as a result of they distract customers from the duty at hand.

Tooltips about grid systems appears in the wrong place.
Tooltip out of context. (Picture supply: Danta Griffthy) (Large preview)

The display screen proven above features a title in massive font with a press release about growing revenue. But, the tooltip refers to a grid system tip icon that supposedly “boosts the worth of your design.” At finest, there’s a tenuous connection between the tooltip and the principle theme on this display screen, growing revenue. The icon and tooltip could be vital, however they’re within the fallacious place on this app.

Extra broadly, context is a bedrock UX precept and applies to all design components. For instance, a picture of a $150,000 sports activities automobile on a web site or app focusing on price range automobile consumers would feel and appear incongruous as a result of the picture wouldn’t match the consumer’s expectations. Briefly, the picture would possible confuse the focused consumer group.

Context is especially vital for tooltips as a result of the aim of a tooltip is to make clear and supply extra data. A misplaced tooltip does the other; it causes confusion.

The place To Use Tooltips

Context can be a crucial consideration when deciding the place to make use of tooltips. As a result of tooltips work finest after they amplify a well-designed UI, they’re notably efficient for:

  • Contextual Assist,
  • Temporary directions,
  • New options.

Contextual Assist

Contextual assist seems when customers are in a selected a part of the UI. The next instance is from Airbnb. Tapping the icon or “3 opinions” textual content shows a tooltip with a proof of opinions and a hyperlink that takes customers to opinions concerning the particular person proven on display screen (the creator, on this instance).

Airbnb review icon with tooltip cropped
Airbnb tooltip explaining the that means of opinions. (Picture supply: Airbnb cellular app) (Large preview)

The tooltip proven above is informative as a result of it explains what opinions imply within the Airbnb app and, particularly, within the context of a single profile. Briefly, contextually particular tooltips seem on the exact second customers want extra data.

Temporary Directions

Tutorial tooltips must also seem when customers want extra data. The distinction is that sure facets of a cellular app may require a proof at every step to make sure that customers can full the duty at hand. For instance:

Tooltip text guides users through each step of a form.
Step-by-step tooltip directions. (Picture supply: IRS cellular web site, gold highlights added by the creator) (Large preview)

Every tooltip on this a part of the IRS app is paired with a selected job equivalent to getting into a social safety quantity, date of start, or avenue tackle. As a result of every tooltip is context-specific, customers can simply be taught what they should do throughout every step and why the IRS wants this data.

New Options

As Sofia Quintero explains in Tooltips: your secret weapon for improving feature discovery, tooltips are an efficient approach to attract the consumer’s consideration to new options, “To advertise and publicize its new GIFs, Twitter displayed a full-screen message to customers earlier than gently directing them on tips on how to incorporate GIFs into their tweets utilizing a standard tooltip.”

Twitter gif tooltip
Twitter cellular app with tooltip exhibiting the then new ‘GIF’ function. (Picture supply: Tooltips: your secret weapon for improving feature discovery, gold callouts added by the creator) (Large preview)

The GIF function was launched a couple of years in the past, nevertheless it holds up as a helpful presentation of a brand new function. It’s clear and clear, standing out with out dominating the UI. New customers will see it whereas skilled customers can proceed with out distraction as a result of the tooltip is well-integrated into the UI and doesn’t cowl up different display screen components.


Tooltips amplify a cellular UI by offering supplemental data exactly when customers want it. Leverage the facility of tooltips by contemplating them when sketching designs and constructing early prototypes. Throughout implementation, make sure that tooltips will assist customers by specializing in:

  • Context
    Efficient tooltips seem exactly when customers want them.
  • Placement
    Tooltips must be outstanding and simple to search out however shouldn’t hinder vital data on the display screen.
  • Readability and brevity
    Assessment each tooltip in your app to make sure that it is sensible. Edit for brevity.

For tooltips to strengthen a well-designed UI, use them in elements of the UI the place they work finest equivalent to:

  • Contextual Assist,
  • Temporary directions,
  • New options.

Tooltips are a strong design sample with a lightweight footprint that enhances cellular designs when used judiciously.

Further Sources

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