February 28, 2011

Designing for Mobile? Think Context, Not Hardware

The author's parents enjoy playing a little Angry Birds

Interactive experiences on mobile devices are no longer limited to simple information finding like phone number lookup or location finding. Users are taking advantage of a variety of interaction modes. Everything from social media to reading to collaboration to gaming to shopping to browsing are used regularly on a variety of mobile platforms.

When one begins thinking about designing a mobile interactive experience, often the challenges of the platform are what spring first to mind. The small screen size, the awkward input modes, the slow download speeds and the disparate installed base all present themselves as hurdles to be overcome in bringing our message and experience to users. But there are a number of opportunities also. Unlike laptops and desktops, mobile devices are almost always available to users. Mobile devices provide geolocation information and new input modes like touch screens, accelerometers and cameras.
But all of these challenges and opportunities are about the hardware, the physical platform of the mobile device. These are issues we have always dealt with as architects and designers of interactive experiences. There is one big difference, however, in designing for a mobile platform. That difference is the user. How does the user perceive the platform? How do their usage patterns differ from a Web platform?

As we investigate these perceptions and usage patterns, one aspect stands out time and again. That aspect is context. Users carry their mobile devices with them everywhere. The designs that we create are experienced in grocery store aisles or in front of a television or at a concert or in a car or while lying down in bed. Just a few years ago, with Web design we could assume that our design would be used in an office or home setting, the user seated and completely focused on our experience. Now we cannot assume a fixed location or even a fixed amount of attention from our users.

Corey has developed a set of governing rules and methods on to create and architect mobile experiences. We will post these here on Wednesday and look forward to your feedback.

In the meantime, hear more about what Corey predicts on branding and mobile by viewing our video Making the Most of Mobile.

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