The next best thing to attending an excellent event is receiving a blow-by-blow report of the conference highlights.
Ian Homer, director of services – and design guru - at mobile agency Bemoko, fills us in on lesson’s learned at last week’s Design for Mobile… It seems we missed an “inspirational conference”.
• Also see this guide to mobile design with tips from the speakers at this event:
It’s all about the design. Essential tips from user experience gurus
Think outside the screen
The problem with the way we use mobile devices today is that they suck us into their virtual environment, so we lose touch with the real environment around us. Kicking off the past week at Design For Mobile 2010 in Chicago, event organizer and president of Little Springs Design, Barbara Ballard, harked back to the Onion's take on those glowing rectangles that absorb us as soon as we place them in front of our eyes, causing us to lose touch with the environment around us. She points out that mobile designers/developers need to consider how we help mobile users to engage their other senses – i.e. not just sight and hearing, and to encourage phone usage that is more in tune (rather than in competition) with our surroundings in the real world.
This concept is easier to grasp when you think about how mobile phones might behave in the future. Take a look at the vision of Fabian Hemmert (Deutsche Telekom Labs) for a device that can change shape, size, weight etc, for example.
The importance of thinking outside the screen is underlined by the fact that mobile phones are not socially acceptable in many circumstances – driving a car, eating with friends or, arguably, wandering down the street with the augmented-reality app in front of our eyes. The experience of Michael Horn (Northwestern University) of using interactive technology in museums demonstrates that, when it’s not properly thought through, apps can end up being too interactive and too focused on the device causing reduced awareness or even social isolation among the users.
With this in mind, designers/developers can enhance the mobile user experience, by making mobile apps more aware of and in-tune with the local environment:
• Pre-empt what the user wants based on what the device can tell us about the situation and location.
• Make interactions simpler by focusing information delivery – allow the user to filter information used by the device so it prioritizes data from sources we trust or people we like.
• Ask the user for less information (e.g. use platforms such as Facebook or Twitter) as one-click identification and personal data access tools. As Luke Wroblewski (Benchmark Capital) points out, as he outlines how to simplify information entry from users on mobile devices:
"Why make users enter their information again, haven't they already told the Internet their name?"
Design for mobile first
The many constraints of the mobile device as much as its attributes help to focus the design process. So much so that designing for mobile first, doesn’t only mean you build better mobile sites/apps, but then when you then go on to build the same site/app for PC, it will also be much improved, by virtue of the discipline of the mobile design. This lesson was underscored by a lively panel discussion with Scott Jenson (Google), Luke Wroblewski and Steven Hoober (Little Springs Design).
Knowing the constraints of mobile helps to pinpoint that one thing the mobile user really wants to do. Josh Clark (Global Moxie), author of "Tapworthy, Designing Great iPhone Apps", expanded on this theme, sharing these tips:
• Think big, build small.
• Provide just enough to address the primary goal.
• Make complex tasks as uncomplicated as possible.
• Ensure every tap/click delivers satisfaction.
• Fiercely remove everything that isn’t absolutely necessary.
By designing for mobile first, you are forced - naturally – to think about every function, interaction and sensory experience between user and device. This strict discipline provides an excellent foundation for delivery to every digital channel, where you should be equally be ruthless with your design.
For example, designing the Expedia TripAssist mobile app, which delivered radical improved user experience than offered on the PC, led to Expedia to rethink PC design.
Limit features to maximize user happiness
It’s not always easy to keep it simple. Karlyn Neel (eBay) points out that keeping it simple requires making hard choices, exercising constraint and staying super-focused on those usage cases that make the difference. Challenge yourself - how can you make things easier and simpler?
Get it right and you will reap the rewards. eBay received US$600m sales via the iPhone app in the first year and received lots of positive user feedback, such as "I actually prefer using the iPhone app to the web site". There’s a good account of eBay’s facts and figures here.
Users request extra features because they like a product - that's a good thing – but it's important to ensure that adding these extras, or feature creep as it's called in the trade, doesn’t impact usability or deflect attention from the raison d'être of the site/app. Josh Clark offers a whole host of design techniques that help to keep you focused on the core goals, while still allowing advanced users access to extra functionality.
For more info on the Design for Mobile conference, search for #d4m2010 on twitter