The Future: You're Soaking In It
Right now people are looking at your site on their iPhone or Galaxy. They are browsing there via their tablets. We don't use our mobile gadgets in the same manner or situations as we did our desktops or laptops. We use them lounging in bed, or strap-hanging the subway. Potential customers surf to your site while whiling away time in the queue at the post office. Today rather than creating a website to be experienced on a laptop browser window with a mouse/keyboard interface, a site open potentially in one of 11-odd browser tabs, we need to think about how our sites looks on tiny screens, navigated by a finger's flick, in places you would never find a laptop. It's a whole new ballgame of potential interactions.
Are you thinking about how your next project sets the stage for your organization's mobile future?
Latest stats say 1.4 billion people will be using smartphones this year http://www.digitaltrends.com/mobi.... Smartphone data consumption is booming http://bgr.com/2013/01/14/smartph.... As of 2011, 25% of U.S. adults own a tablet. The number in 2010? 4%.
It is now 2013. If you are thinking of rethinking your website - or your web service - or your web anything, you need to have your tablet or smartphone/s of choice at your side from long before the word go. The change wrought by mobile does not end at your website's user experience either. Organizations are realizing that thinking 'mobile first' will likely change more than just their marketing presence, it could very likely effect their essential business processes. You need to figure out a way to pay attention to your own lived experience of mobile interactions. Understanding and opening yourself to mobile's potential to effect every aspect of your business is a good way to ensure your next project sets the stage for your organization's mobile future.
We all know that change is annoying. No matter how many inspiring people opine on the possibilities and perfections brought about by the process, the actually experience of change is generally uncomfortable and inconvenient. But here we are. Our business plans, global markets, and everyone's needs continue to evolve. The ways in which our customers and readers experience our products and services continue to evolve.
“When one door closes another door opens; but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us.” – Alexander Graham Bell
It's actually a good exercise: mobile immersive therapy. Make yourself and all the stake-holders in your organization conduct all their digital tasks, work and play, on their smartphone or tablet for a day. Experience what's currently out there and imagine the potentials for your own organization. Pay attention to what is awkward and horrible to do and what is so easy that you already choose to use your mobile device for the task. (For me, that would be USAA bank's mobile deposit feature.) The exercise kickstarts thinking in an experiential way that can shake up new ideas and help change the way we think. You may even want to whisper softly to yourself as you conclude the exercise: "Mobile first. Mobile first..."
When I last tried this, it so happened that my shoe order from my favorite online apparel company had just arrived on my doorstep. Immediately upon opening the package, I realized that I should have bought the red shoes instead of the burgundy ones. How hard would it be to order the red ones now, from my porch on my iPod Touch?
I tap the retailer's url into my mobile device's browser (Safari). No way! This company – which totally rocks at customer service and exudes cool thoughtfulness – wasn't optimized for my mobile screen at all. Looking around, they didn't seem to have an alternate site or app, so onward into the awkward interface I went, zooming and pinching my way to the login page, then to the password reset... Thankfully, check-out was a breeze, despite a bit of scrolling and resizing. But it was strange: this e-tailer is very successful, and they do great things with the rest of their customer experience. Their email and shipping correspondence is well-thought out and friendly. How can they not have gotten around to giving customers who choose to order shoes from their mobile devices a fun shopping experience? The process of squinting at the site on my device was annoying enough that I would likely have put it off until I sat down at my laptop again, had I not been doing mobile immersive therapy. My question is: Do they really want to hinder my shopping impulse and postpone my transaction?
All Hail Responsive Design
Responding in a timely and efficient manner to the trumpets of change is not easy. Perhaps this is why the word on the tweets is that 2013 will be the year of Responsive Design (http://mashable.com/2012/12/11/re...).
Responsive Design offers a bridge to the future by using a combination of flexible layout grids and front end coding to enable a website's layout to rejigger itself to the width of the device on which it's viewed. Building an app for every potential mobile operating system's store is oftentimes a study in inefficiency; the promise of Responsive Design is to offer a simple way to make your content look good on any screen size. You build the site once and then it just works, no matter the device.
From a project's inception, it is critical to consider how mobile computing effects your immediate project and your larger business goals. You need to consider how you are doing mobile engagement. As compared to the mobile design process, it's a fundamentally deeper dive. http://www.zdnet.com/blog/forrest... The desktop/laptop world wasn't here that all long, but we got used to it pretty quickly. We all made plans and decisions thinking about our desktop sites and our social media presences at our last strategy session, but if your business or service can be accessed via mobile devices and you have not re-evaluated how that effects every detail of your business, you are liable to start your upcoming project's journey with a map of the wrong country. Every day it becomes more problematic to assume the continued viability of plans made when the laptop was your landscape.
The trick of Responsive Design is that we start by thinking about the newest, most constraining device. If we can successfully make a fast and focused user experience on a smartphone, we have an excellent foundation for making excellent tablet and desktop experiences. This mobile first stuff sounds elegant, smart, and efficient. However for Responsive Design to succeed as a strategy for efficiently creating 3 elegant experiences from one website codebase, we must think differently. We must think mobile first.
Thus, the suggestion for mobile immersion therapy. A session or two of mobile immersive therapy is recommended for all the decision makers within your organization. Pay attention to how YOU use your mobile device. Note where you feel like giving up and waiting to check something out on your laptop. Does downloading new apps delight or annoy you? Your visitors are already making these mental lists.
So here's the mobile web, rearing its head and demanding attention. How do you make sure that your organization is not neglecting the future? That is where the visionaries come in (natch). At PINGV we have been talking about the evolving mobile web for awhile now, [http://pingv.com/blog/why-respons... http://pingv.com/blog/square-grid... distilling and synthesizing the best thinking for our clients. It is essential that your web design & development team are "mobile first" evangelists. There are so many competing interests at play within an organization now that the role of advocate for mobile strategizing is critical to your project's success.
Meeting Client Needs While Practicing a "Mobile First" Philosophy
For example, our recent work for Dwell was a "mobile first" process for us, but the client had a different primary need. They said (in paraphrase), "Get us off this $@*# CMS, stat!" This was their immediate articulated goal, their "holy grail". The client felt that they had plenty of choices to make just in migrating their site from one CMS to another. They could not focus on crafting the website experiences for their smartphone and tablet audiences. Moreover, they were already working with app-network Zumobi to create a native iPad app. Their native iPhone/Android Zumobi apps already had a lot of downloads. The decision to focus on native apps versus mobile websites continues to be a hot one (http://econsultancy.com/us/blog/7...) but Dwell was far ahead of other sites in similar media spaces in terms of thinking mobile.
The dwell.com website, however – the website you visited from within the browser on your smartphone – was not optimized at all. Visiting their site on an iPhone offered the typical messy experience one has come to expect from sites which havn't gotten with the times: the desktop version crammed into 300-odd pixels, necessitating crazy scrolling and lots of pinching and zooming. A beacon of Modern design it was not.
As trusted advisors, we worked with Dwell to develop strategy and goals that would satisfy their immediate needs, as well as position the organization for broader mobile engagement in the future. After several rounds of mobile consciousness-raising and advocacy, Dwell agreed that PINGV would lay the groundwork for future mobile UX development by creating a responsive approach to smartphones. They would retain the "desktop" version for tablets.
We are so pleased with the way the site works on mobile now. Dwell.com on your smartphone gives you all the same fresh content as on the desktop version, just resized to fit in neat chunks. Future site iterations can easily leverage reader feedback to craft the satisfying user experiences that we are coming to expect from our favorite websites.
Is your organization setting itself on a firm footing for the mobile future?