Designing for mobile: 5 things you should do

by Donna Lichaw on 10 June 2014

If you don’t have a mobile app or website, chances are you should.

Why? Unless your product or service has zero applicable mobile context, your mobile traffic is probably growing and will continue to do so. It’s not unusual for a business to have 15% of its traffic come from mobile one quarter, only to see it double within the next half year. Being prepared will not only ensure that you can adequately capture a growing mobile market, but will have some added benefits.

Here are 5 things to keep in mind when you’re designing for mobile…

1. Mobile content

Content is vitally important when designing for mobile. You have less space to work with, but can’t force users to go to the desktop website for content they’re seeking on a mobile device.

Make sure that your content provides customers with what they need when they need it. Everything else (features, functionality, apps, websites) work in service of the content. It’s the content that customers consume, love, and hopefully pay for or share.

For non-content focused businesses, the corollary to content-first is something like task-first. Make sure that users can do what they need to do when they need to do it. Then build your solutions accordingly.

2. Mobile first

With growing mobile usage around the world, if you’re building a new product or service you should design and launch mobile first. It’s important to use mobile as a way to:

  • Pare down on features and scope creep
  • Make sure that you know what content and functionality really matters most to your customers
  • Have a design that can easily be scaled up

Scaling designs up is easy, scaling down – as most older companies who did not start out mobile first now know – is much more difficult. If you want to build better products and save time, energy, and cost in the long run, mobile first is the only way to go.

3. Guerrilla testing

If you’re not in constant contact with your customers and actively trying  to meet and exceed customer needs, chances are you’re not innovating, and/or iterating at the rate you need to stay competitive. While formal usability and concept testing is great when you have large overriding questions that need answers, guerrilla testing is a great way to get ongoing, fast, effective feedback on the fly.

Designing mobile first makes guerrilla testing that much easier. It’s less challenging to test a working prototype on a phone in a hallway, street, or cafe than it is to test a full desktop product on a laptop. Even if you’re not launching mobile first, testing mobile first gives you quick feedback so you can validate your assumptions and move to the next phase.

Just like designs, insights from testing on mobile usually scale up to desktop. Just be sure that once you finish your desktop version, you still test that to make sure you’re not missing anything.

If you want to know more about guerrilla teting, the GDS have a comprehensive guide.

4. Participatory design

Just like guerrilla testing, participatory design is a great way to quickly and effectively co-design with teams, stakeholders, customers, or all the above. While this method is by no means just for mobile, in my experience when you include customers in mobile design sessions they tend to have more fun and imaginative ideas than if they were asked to design for desktop.

Does this mean that you have to use ideas that customers co-design with you? Of course not. But if you’re looking to build a better connection with your customers during one-on-one sessions, participatory design is a great way to not only break the ice, but *see* what they have in their heads.

We recently ran a participatory design workshop at Webcredible when making our website responsive and the results were great.

5. Don’t go mobile

By that, I mean that while you need to consider mobile as part of your strategy and product roadmap, your mobile offering will differ depending on your business and customer context. It might be that you need a mobile or responsive website, rather than an app.

In making this decision, do your homework. Find out how your customers use your product. See if there are any significant benefits to going native. Do you already have a native app that you’re not updating? If you do and aren’t getting as much value out of it as you like, find out what the problem is. In short: Talk to your users! Sometimes, once you have a native app, not updating it creates a chicken-egg effect where your customers stop using it and so you don’t update it.

For certain businesses native apps act as part of a strategic branding effort. While customers might not use the app as much as the business would like, it can serve as a parked car in the app store, a brand beacon or sign of innovation. This could be as important to a business as actual usage.

If you want to learn more about designing for mobile, I teach a mobile user experience class that will help you plan, create and execute the best possible mobile presence for your organization.

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