November 29 | Dave Gibson As a whole suite of strong competing mobile products have emerged this year to challenge the iPhone (I’m addicted to my Motorola Droid on Verizon), adoption and usage has risen to critical mass. For those without a mobile site, below are 5 important things to consider when developing a mobile website.
The combination of the device evolution (iPhone to Droid) combined with social web (Facebook, YouTube) have propelled (couldn’t resist) mobile web into the mainstream. This now puts the pressure on website owners to quickly provide a mobile experience for this new audience, because you can bet that your current website is not cutting it for mobile users. As Jacob Nielsen points out in this review of mobile internet sites posted this past July, the “mobile usability experience is miserable”. While I generally consider Nielsen extreme, in this case, I don’t think anyone can argue.
Don’t slam your web developer however (please). After all, developers have been designing for desktop users, and enjoying the luxury of ever increasing bandwidths and screen resolutions to provide ever-richer experiences. Now we need to reach back to the standards of design that we started with - which for us was back in ’97. Remember designing for 640x480 and 56K speeds? We just have to go back there and apply those early principles.
This doesn’t need to be too painful though. Compared to the newest shinny objects we typically find thrust upon us, this doesn’t require much more than simplifying what you already have.
Here are 5 guidelines for developing a mobile website.
1. Start with Analytics. Get a baseline & analyze current mobile user patterns. Open your analytics and review your operating systems stats. Google Analytics users go to Visitors/Browser Capabilities/Operating Systems. While there, click into a mobile operating system and modify the report to reveal where the users of that device clicked from or what city they live in. That or other modifiers might reveal some interesting info about your mobile audience. Also check - Top pages. Where are mobile web users going on your website? - Keyword – what terms is your mobile audience using to reach your site?
2. Audience Profiling Mobile users may represent a different demographic and they certainly have different needs compared to desktop/laptop users. Put yourself in their shoes and create 3-5 user profiles. Give each a name. From either real data or intuition, provide some demographics and list out 3 goals for the profile coming to the site. Remember, your audience may be shopping or on the road looking for that next place to go, so if you have a physical place of business, directions will likely be one. 3. Information Architecture (IA) The navigation for your mobile site should be reduced to only meet the goals of your audience profiles and your business. Look at your current analytics to see what content current mobile users visit or search for. Strip out all the junk and create an information architecture that is tight and strategic. You might end up with only 3-5 navigation items and one level deep.
4. Design Here, we head back to the good old ‘90s and use graphics judiciously with sensitivity to the small screen size and limited bandwidth. Naturally the brand needs to carry forth and design elements need to align with the broader visual identity. Usability is key though and interactive elements such as buttons need to be sized to accommodate touch screens and finger and thumbs of all sizes.
5. Extended Functionality: Apps & Flash Devices tend to dictate much of how things work – or don’t work. Applications for Apple’s iPhone or Google’s Android platforms are popular and get a lot of attention. These apps are fantastic and leverage a rapidly growing community of imaginative developers that are extending these devices for entertainment, information, or function. The downside for the provider is the development cost and the growing need to develop apps for multiple platforms – especially with Android (Google) coming on so strong. I expect this is where Flash will enter and provide a great alternative to apps. Flash is not currently supported on most devices, though that will soon change. Adobe has a mobile Flash platform for mobile which will open up a new world of functionality for mobiles. These will be browser-based, rather than rely on application/gadget installs and will be integrated with the mobile site. I think that alignment between mobile site and app will be key to provide a broader experience for the user at a reasonable cost for website owners. Some helpful references