Beyond Scaling Down: Generating a Successful Mobile Experience

So you’ve finally decided to move your brand to the mobile Web, or recognize that you’re due for a major mobile Web refresh based on all the mobile buzz. Before jumping into your mobile project, it’s important to recognize that there are distinct differences when designing for mobile than a traditional desktop Web experience. While there are certainly obvious physical differences that play an important role, let’s look at the overall user experience considerations that need to be addressed based on behaviors of mobile Web users.

Before we talk experience, what are the major behavioral differences with the mobile Web? The behaviors are vastly different, specifically around what a user is doing when they are accessing it. We browse while waiting in line, sitting on the train, and walking down the street. Mobile sites often get “partial attention” because we’re accessing the Web while we’re in the middle of the real world, which also requires our ongoing attention and interaction. It has a significant impact on our behavior both in what we’re looking for and how we’re looking for it. While designing for the desktop is all about creating an immersive experience that draws the user in, designing for mobile is all about creating a complementary experience while we’re already immersed in the real world.

As we think about experience, brands usually want to simply port their existing website and format it for a mobile browser. While that gets all the information in the users’ hands, it doesn’t achieve the true experience to match users’ needs. Screen space is limited, and trying to fit all the various options of a desktop Web experience into a tiny screen is going to lead to user frustration in seeking information. Secondly, since mobile users are operating in the real world, it shouldn’t be assumed that they have the time to leisurely browse as they would in a desktop experience. Designing for mobile means focusing on the key tasks that the user needs and making them as simple and efficient as possible.

Several brands have launched mobile websites that are simple but great examples of identifying a task that the user wants from a mobile experience and designing the site solely around that function. Hertz’s mobile experience is a good example that centers around letting users make a car reservation and allowing them to check on an already placed reservation. That is the site experience. Hertz has recognized that those two tasks are exactly what frequent travelers need on the go. While you can make the argument that not including other functions is a lost opportunity, the brand strategy focuses on simplicity of the experience and thus adds the value to their customers by focusing only on their major tasks and not jeopardizing it with the opportunity to get lost in additional information. This approach leads to an easy-to-build/easy-to-maintain site that delivers what users want.

What if your brand doesn’t have such clear-cut user needs from a functionality perspective? What if you have a lot of information to provide, or specific information that a user must drill down to find? There are several ways to solve these challenges. The first of which is approaching your design with a strong information architecture. You need to fully understand your site’s context, taxonomy, and the user flow. Strong navigation that’s clear and easily reachable will allow mobile users to be able to quickly move through significant amounts of data and get what they need.

Secondly, recognize the fact that mobile provides an arsenal of tools, including everything from device detection to location information, to expedite the user experience to customize data as soon as the user arrives. Many apps and sites have utilized this information from their launch, and as mobile Web location information becomes increasingly integrated, this will become a simple way to streamline the user experience and embed the user where they want to be as soon as they arrive on the site. From local deals to news to check-in features, the possibilities are rapidly emerging to augment the experience from the beginning.

With the current push for brands to drive mobile experiences, it’s important to ensure your process begins with a sound mobile strategy and approach. While there is temptation to rapidly develop and have a strong mobile Web presence in market, it’s crucial to invest the time in the planning process to fully understand your mobile Web user, design for their wants and needs, and create the best user experience factoring in the context in which your users will be using your site. Not only will your overall mobile Web experience be better, your users will also thank you for it and be your best brand advocates.

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