So, everybody wants to go mobile….
or so the thinking goes. But designing for mobile poses unique challenges
“Mobile users are different. They demand experiences that are more engaging than what you offer your desktop customers but are constrained by limited screen real estate, time, and capabilities”
(see this useful primer on mobile users). Sounds like a tall order? So what is a mobile designer to do? It all depends on the goal behind the mobile presence. Read on.
Responsive, Adaptive, or Stand-Alone Design?
The question you want to ask though is why users want to visit your website on a mobile gadget.
- Does your website enable people to do something that users often do on the go, such as finding out the hours of a business, or buying tickets, or looking up and calling a phone number?
- Or are the goals of your website better explored on a larger screen, and the mobile presence is required only as a starting point for further exploration later on. So maybe they want to save the URL of your website or save a longer article for later reading.
Your mobile design will depend on the tasks users can accomplish on your site. Does your site allow for exploration that may be better done on a larger screen? You may be better off using responsive or adaptive design, which allows the same content to flow onto different sized screens. Same content, same interactions, just parsed differently. The difference between the two designs (responsive and adaptive) has to do with the how the content changes in response to screen width. Responsive designs respond fluidly and continuously as you resize the screen, whereas adaptive designs change in “snaps”, or jumps, when another set of specification makes more sense. Say when changing from a cell phone to a tablet.
But if you have mobile -specific tasks to accomplish, then you may opt to develop a website which is independent of the full website, designed to focus on the most relevant goals mobile users have. For example, when designing a mobile site for a public library, you may only want to enable the users to
- find out about locations and hours of brick-and-mortar libraries
- check the patrons’ account, enabling the users to view what they have out, and what they need to return/renew
- search for an item and then request it
This scenario calls for a standalone design, with the mobile application focusing on the high-frequency on-the-go functions, and the full website going beyond that and including more.