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  • Mobile first approach.

    The more I look into designing for mobiles, the more I become convinced that mobile users cannot be ignored. The amount of Smartphones being purchased, and also the amount of time spent accessing the Internet via Smartphones, are both rapidly increasing. I have just read the book Mobile First by Luke Wroblewski and he not only provides a very strong case for the necessity of mobile design but also suggests a novel approach – design for mobiles first. Commonly mobile is an afterthought, a variation of the desktop version. However the mobile first approach suggests that mobile should be the starting point, and that the constraints and also opportunities of mobile devices will result in a better overall outcome. 

    Here are my take-aways from the book:

    Smartphone growth.

    • Smartphones were boldly predicted to out-ship the combined global market of laptop, desktop, and notebook computers in 2012. They did so in the last quarter of 2010 – two years earlier than predicted! (source: SmartOnline). 
    • Home usage of personal computers in 2010 was down 20% from 2008 in the United States. The culprit? Smartphones and tablets gobbling up our time online (source: Business Insider).
    • By November 2010 visitors to web-based email sites declined 6%, but visitors accessing email with their mobile devices grew by 36% (source: comScore).
    • Traffic to mobile websites in 2010 grew 600% after tripling between 2009 and 2010 (source: Bango).
    • While half a billion people accessed the mobile internet worldwide in 2009, heavy mobile data users will triple to one billion by 2013 (sources: mobiThinking, Morgan Stanley).
    • PayPal is seeing up to $10 million in mobile payment volume per day (source: LukeW).
    • eBay’s global mobile sales generated nearly $2 billion in 2010 (source: LukeW).
    • Google’s mobile searches grew 130% in the third quarter of 2010 (source: TechCrunch).
    • A recent survey looked at where people used their Smartphones and found:
      - 84% use them at home
      - 80% use them during miscellaneous downtime throughout the day
      - 74% use them while waiting in lines or waiting for appointments
      - 69% use them while shopping
      - 64% use them at work
      - 62% use them while watching TV (a different study claims 84%) 
      - 47% use them during their commute.

    What changed?

    • Mobile isn’t growing just because devices are getting better; they’re getting cheaper as well. People who could never afford a desktop or laptop computer can now get online using inexpensive mobile devices and increasingly affordable data plans.
    • Broader coverage from faster networks has also been adding fuel to the fire. In 2010 alone, mobile network speeds doubled.

    What about my website?

    Just in case you think your website or application is immune, the average Smartphone user visits up to 24 websites a day and the top 50% of websites only account for 40% of all mobile visits (source: MobiAD News). That means your site is very likely a part of the mobile growth story as well.


    Mobile still remains a very constrained environment. However, embracing these constraints will ultimately get you better results.

    • Small screen sizes force you to prioritise what really matters to your customers and business. 
    • Slow connections and limited data plans require you to be vigilant about performance, resulting in fast-loading websites everywhere.

    Screen size.

    • When you consider the amount of useless navigation, content fluff, and irrelevant promotions that litter a typical web experience, you realise why the mobile diet can be good for both businesses and customers. Once people use the mobile version, it’s not uncommon for them to pine for the desktop version to be “that simple”.
    • If you can agree on the most important set of features and content for your customers and business, why should that prioritisation change with more screen space?
    • In fact, you’ll quickly find your customers will expect to do just about everything (within reason) on mobile. Especially those who primarily (or only) use their mobiles to get online. So don’t dumb things down on mobile – focus on what really matters most anywhere people can access your website. With mobile first, the end result is an experience focused on the key tasks users want to accomplish without the extraneous detours and general interface debris that litter many of today’s websites. There simply isn’t room on a Smartphone screen for elements of questionable value.


    • Anything that can be done to increase performance on mobile should be done. Speed isn’t just important on mobile. Testing done by Amazon, Yahoo!, Microsoft and others has consistently shown that even very small delays (100ms) on the desktop can turn users away. 
    • If you focus on mobile first and make things fast enough for spotty mobile networks, your websites and applications will be blazingly fast on the desktop and your customers will love you for it – just another advantage to embracing mobile constraints up front.

    Time and place.

    • Since mobile devices are (just about) always with their owners, location and time play a big role in how they are used. 
    • When you design for mobile you are designing something that can be used anywhere and anytime.

    Mobile behaviours.

    • Lookup/Find (urgent info, local): I need an answer to something now – frequently related to my current location in the world.
    • Explore/Play (bored, local): I have some time to kill and just want a few idle time distractions.
    • Check In/Status (repeat/micro-tasking): Something important to me keeps changing or updating and I want to stay on top of it.
    • Edit/Create (urgent change/micro-tasking): I need to get something done now that can’t wait.

    Because they directly align with why people pull out their mobile devices, these behaviours often determine how your mobile experience can be structured and organised to meet people’s needs. 

    Content over navigation.

    • As a general rule, content takes precedence over navigation on mobile – users want immediate answers to their needs and not your site map. Allowing people to explore and pivot to relevant content doesn’t have to mean piles of navigation bars that bury content. 
    • Minimising the amount of navigation options on mobile screens helps to prevent errors. With fewer navigation choices, people are less likely to accidentally tap away to other tasks while trying to accomplish their current objective.

    Mobile first approach.

    • Prepares you for the explosive growth and new opportunities emerging on mobile today.
    • Forces you to focus and prioritise your products by embracing the constraints inherent in mobile design.
    • Allows you to deliver innovative experiences by building on new capabilities native to mobile devices.
    • The mobile first approach has already been adopted by some of the worlds biggest web companies.
    • Google Chairman Eric Schmidt advises “The simple guideline is whatever you are doing – do mobile first”, and Kevin Lynch, Adobe’s CTO, states “we really need to shift to think about mobile first... this is a bigger shift than we saw with the personal computing revolution”.

    3 key points I have taken away from the book:

    • Mobile users cannot be ignored. 
    • Mobile capabilities allow us to reinvent ways to meet people’s needs.
    • The mobile first approach can lead to a better overall user experience for a website or application.

    The Creative Type

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