Minority Report: Designing for Mobile

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By Mike Exon

A meaty question pre-occupying the world of digital design is how unique should your mobile site be?

It’s become a confused landscape, with different executional approaches, like responsive design, being taken for strategies in their own right.

The current debate looks like this: one strand of logic says that if desktop websites have a lot on them, try slimming down the content for the mobile version to just the essentials. But, the counter view – you need to see all of it even if you are using your iPad or mobile phone – has fast become the leading best practice approach.

In her latest book, Content Strategy for Mobile, Karen McGrane makes a powerful case for the ‘show all of it’ approach.

We talked to McGrane about some of the issues around multi-device content design this week (big thanks to my LBi colleague Elizabeth McGuane for organising). She started by emphasising that, while you can certainly design bespoke sites for desktop, mobile, or tablet, you create multiple sets of content. There is then the pragmatic challenge of maintaining 3 different sets of ‘stuff’ simultaneously.

On the basis that this is probably not the ideal starting point, McGrane’s advice is, where possible, start with a single set of content that can be adapted if necessary for the devices it will appear on. Adaptive content is king.

McGrane agrees with our experiences that making these sorts of quite complex cases to colleagues or clients is challenging. Simplifying is critical. But the risk of not starting by thinking about content (like going straight into design) are bigger and bigger in the mobile world.

How close is the big dream of designing personalised experiences that can respond to where you are and what you are doing?

“Designing for context is the endgame right now but it’s still way off,” she says.

The thing is, the more we make assumptions about what people are doing – without knowing – the more likely we are to just get it plain wrong. Contextual factors like localisation are coming into play increasingly, but we’re probably not looking at Minority Report on Oxford Street any time soon.

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