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Lecture | Designing for the Mobile Experience November 6, 2006

Posted by Lee Cherry in Uncategorized.
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Rick Cecil started out talking about the mobile experience and how you can build a basic strategy for entering the market and developing content specifically tailored to the mobile platform.

The mobile platform as a true medium is in its infancy here in the US – 2 years old. Companies and consumers are scrambling to understand how this media will ultimately integrate or enhance our lives; or if it will even do so at a large enough scale. However, it’s very similar to what started in the beginning of the internet/web craze 12 years ago, i.e. repurpose content instead of developing within constraints/limitations of the platform.

It’s the first time we’ve taken one device and completely repurposed it for another use. You could say that’s the case with computers and the Internet, but Internet usage is not much different than what we had been using computers for—research, data creation, data manipulation, etc. This is especially try when you compare the 2006 Web to the 1985 computer—how many things can you do on the Internet today that used to require desktop applications.

So, say we start to have a relationship with the mobile device… As product designers, how do we fit our products into this existing relationship OR how do we redefine this relationship? To answer either of these questions, we must understand the mobile phone and how it fits into our lives today. I want to focus on three aspects of mobile—what I believe are the three most important aspects.

Mobile is Fast. Mobile is social. Mobile is ugly.

Mobile is Fast.
Opportunities for interactions with the customer come and go very quickly. We are seeing a pattern where mobile phone usage is layered on top of other activities. People use the phone while they’re driving, standing in line, washing dishes. This tells us that interactions must be fast in order to fit into this time frame. If someone has 5 minutes to read the latest news, it shouldn’t take them 3 minutes to get to the news portal; if someone is lost, they need directions now—not 2 minutes from now. And that’s the real challenge of mobile: people are in motion, they’re context and needs are changing rapidly.

Mobile is Social.
Mobile started out as a social media and the most successful products have been social in nature—text messaging, for example. We’re even seeing evidence that people by ringtones in groups. Even the ringtone itself is social: it announces the phone owner’s musical tastes or their sense of humor. You can tell a lot about a person from their ringtone.

Mobile is slowly transitioning to a medium for entertainment and information retrieval (news, scores, stocks, etc.), but these services are way behind their social counterpart. What to do? Well, you can start by making some of these services more social—we’ve done some of this with our games communities, allowing people to post scores to leaderboards. That said, these other services are growing, but will require significant improvements in the user experience to gain any real headway.

Mobile is Ugly.
And this is probably why most of us don’t use many of the services. Phones are difficult to use—even for making a simple phone call. Pile on top of that signal droppage and you have the making for some really frustrated users. As designers we must compensate for these issues; it’s not easy and not always possible, but it’s something we should strive to do.

So, now that we understand the three aspects of mobile. What do we do? Develop some guidelines of course…

Context. Technology. Simplicity.

Context.
Where will you customer be when they are using your product? People aren’t sitting at their desk anymore. They’re up and about. That doesn’t mean you can’t identify a particular time that people will be using your service—driving, standing in line, etc.

Technology.
Understanding the context will drive many design decisions—and will even drive the technology you choose: SMS, thick client, or WAP service. And this decision can be the difference between a successful service and a failed service. SMS can provide instant feedback, but you must remember shortcodes and keywords, which can be cumbersome; thick clients are generally slow to load and aren’t as responsive as they should be, but the provide a desktop-like rich gui experience and can be seductive; this seduction, though can be superficial if you haven’t designed it for the appropriate context. Then, there’s WAP technologies, which are nice middle road—they’re certainly not as rich as thick clients, but they do provide a more interactive experience than text messages; though, it still lacks the immediacy of a text message.

Simplicity.
When you think about designing for the mobile Web, keep John Maeda’s Laws of Simplicity in mind, particularly his tenth law: “Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious, and adding the meaningful.” More of the wrong features means less value and more frustration for your customers. The mobile Web is too new, too raw, and too constrained to allow for any excess. While your customers might tolerate excess in other media, lack of simplicity will render your mobile products impotent.

Rick CecilRichard F. Cecil is the User Experience Team Lead at Motricity. He has nearly a decade of experience envisioning and designing innovative solutions for a variety of companies, including startups, non-profits, universities, and Fortune 100 companies. During his tenure at Motricity, he has worked with Cingular, BET, Ask, Alltel, and other clients and is the lead designer for Motricity’s core product offering. In addition, he is a co-founder of the Interaction Design Group (now the Interaction Design Association), the UXnet ambassador for the RTP region, and active in the UPA–serving on the organizing committee for World Usability Day as well as co-founding his local UPA chapter.

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