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Consider Mobility, and not Mobile when you Design

Posted by: | Posted on: | Posted in: Enterprise

Rapidly evolving device landscapes has made it quite difficult to differentiate where the ‘mobile’ or ‘app’ really begins and ends. It usually happens that just when the designers start mastering a particular tool, framework or methodology needed to build an intuitive mobile app, the device landscape takes a 360 degree turn.

And now smartwatches, connected wearables, sensors and everything that falls under the “Internet of Things” canopy has added more complexities to the already complex environment. Such constantly varying device-landscapes are giving a hard time to designers. By the time, designers get a hold of the tool/framework or methodology; there comes new devices, making it really difficult to adopt them quickly.


Till now, designers’ usually took up mobile design the same way as they took responsive web design, and so, most of them found mobile design simpler; some kind of a ‘smaller version of web with a touch support and camera access’.

However, the upcoming products and services aim on fluid functionality across a wide range of devices, sensors and network connections. And hence, it is always important to keep mobility in mind, and not the mobile while designing.

The Right Approach

The right approach to design mobile app is to pay extra attention on a specific device while creating design, keeping mobility, in mind. Designing for mobility will help you to make the perspective more broad and zoom out from specific devices and even take a look at the ecosystem in which it is supposed to function.

Mobility is not about device, it is more about the context

Technology is percolating into small fissure. With the latest technological tools, it has become easier to know what we do, who we relate and where we go. Earlier, it seemed like mobile phones would become the only (and exclusive) point of contact for technology, for they were sole “smart” device that people usually carried.

This, of course, has changed. Smartwatches, fitness wristbands and other wearables with sensors (like heart-rate monitors and pedometers) have changed the course of action. Therefore; the reality is that how much data an app or platform captures does not depend on just a single device; rather it is all about a combination of various touchpoints. Being aware about the context also suggests designing for cases where the information is either limited or completely non-existent. This is very much applicable even if designing is for a single known device.

It is time to redefine “responsiveness”

Designers, these days; in order to provide customized solutions to their users, try to understand (user) context. So, obtaining information from them is just the first half of the transaction. Users provide information in exchange for the value acquired from every bit of information.

A truly responsive interface involves active listening to a changeable environment. This may include everything, right from being aware of weak internet connection, to reacting to a sudden change in the heart rate, and almost everything in between.

Waze, world’s largest community-based traffic and navigation app, automatically changes the color scheme from light to dark depending on the time of sunset. This indeed proves to be helpful, since it avoids dazzling the user at night. Moreover, this data could be used to detect the environment brightness via phone cameras.

Hence, UI would change in the real time, like when the car enters in a tunnel, or if it goes out from a darker spot to a much brighter street. Designers, often, heavily underuse what they are already able to understand about the users’ context.

For instance, analytics, speaks a lot about who visits the site or who uses the app. But most often, this information is used in a very passive way, just to analyze what happened. Leveraging data processing and data analytics to respond in real time to your users has been hardly on anyone’s card. Adopting mobility in a way compels the designers to think harder about users’ environment and try to serve in an efficient manner by establishing a richer and smarter communication system.

Screens are gradually reducing their presence

It is very much evident that screens are getting smaller and much more efficient, as compared to its early days. However, the concept of a screen itself is being put into question by emerging technology – Can Oculus Rift be termed as a proper “screen”? Or how a HoloLens will function in the rooms?

In the former instance (Oculus Rift) visual interface is no longer restricted to glowing glass rectangles, while for the latter one, the availability of auditive and haptic feedbacks provide more options for communication with the users and even reinforce messages.

In this situation, mobility becomes equivalent to unobtrusiveness – the systems needs to become adaptable to the users, instead of being the other way round.

Smartwatches, for example, aim to reduce the time people generally take to stare at screens, in order to use only the bits of information that is really needed. In most cases, this is done using notifications.

Create Notifications-First

The variety and volatility of media through which the information is delivered compels the communication to get reduced to its common denominator – the notifications.

There are three crucial things about notifications; they are really simple and short. Moreover; its design ability is quite limited, since it needs to fit completely in different form factors. Further, it actively interrupts the user (push) instead of waiting for them to put up a request (pull). So, the actual value of most apps exists in the content which it can provide immediately. The UX of what takes place inside a full-sized app is secondary to the notification (a classic example, being the chat apps).

The app-oriented model that is at the center of current mobile experience is gradually giving way to a volley of well-timed content and information delivered by the providers. This puts an extra emphasis on the value-deliverance to users, by both the service and content providers alike, instead of putting emphasis on the aesthetic in the app.

This raises an important question – Will apps disappear or become completely irrelevant? As far as valuable Mobile App Service providers are concerned, the answer to this question is No.

Apps are the user endpoints through which data is captured, for Yelp to be the best review provider; it needs to leave a review through the app. Moreover, apps provide detailed views and captivating experiences that are suitable for several use cases.

Creating “notification-first” allows the app’s value to be delivered using a wider range of media and even makes one realize the importance of valuable information over layouts and color palettes.

Create design around bits of value addition that you do the context

The above can easily be considered as an invitation to have more notifications, however; probably there is less requirement for notifications these days. Notifications are usually abused by most apps, which thoughtlessly consider it right to interrupt users to deliver content that they haven’t even requested in the first place. For example; those never-ending “tailored for you” notifications by Twitter. Activated by default, these are mostly a poor guess on what it thinks is the interesting content.

It is important to understand that notifications are a way of delivering value and not an opportunity to constantly compel the users to come back to apps. This again brings us back to the need of being context-aware. Designers require to be more connected with the users’ environment, right from the conceptualization stage.

So techniques like contextual review, shadowing and field research becomes important than ever, since; increased mobility means the environment is getting more unpredictable. If the environment for a web user in the 90’s consisted just a desk and a room, now it can be anywhere and anytime.

Technology provides with data from which context can be inferred, however; it is important that this context-data makes sense. If it does not, it might end up with random and useless raw data. Proper user research, therefore, becomes more critical than ever, both to conceptualize better products/services and to imply properly the context to which it will respond.

It’s going to be a tough time for lazy designers

Since, UX designs have become more complex, the UX designers need to become more broad-minded, collaborative and meticulous about whom they are designing for. They need to expand their knowledge horizons about the available technology. Moreover, the meaning of “responsive” has been badly abused. It’s reduced to merely ability to adapt to varying screen sizes. It is important to bring back the concept of “responsive” to its true meaning – Ability to respond, and thus creating a better communication with the user.

About the Author:

Chirag Shivalker
Chirag Shivalker is one of the very few business writers with flair of social commentary through his technical writing. With A decade long experience in technology writing and trend analysis Chirag is an expert in technology and technological trends along with business writing. Technology in mind and words at will Chirag is an all-rounder who has established his writing capabilities’ in multiple technology disciplines.

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