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Designing for the Mobile Environment – Some Simple Guidelines

If you’re going to design for mobile, then it’s likely you’re going to need to consider the way that the device is used and the specifics of the device itself. There are some general principles that can help designers for mobile get started but don’t forget that these don’t replace the need for user research. They are guidelines not hard and fast rules.

There are many things to consider when designing for mobile and while many are standard UX considerations; there are going to be mobile specific design considerations too. Are you going to integrate your mobile offering with your current offering? Will you use responsive design or adaptive design if you do?

A lot of this will boil down to context. E.g the context in which the mobile device will be used. If your users access the mobile web from their desks, that’s awesome, but many users don’t. They’re going to be trying to use them in the supermarket, on their daily commute, on the walk to the coffee shop, etc.

That means you’re going to have to consider how to reduce distractions and make it easy for the user to focus on the task in hand too.

Josh Clark, the author of Tapworthy- Designing Great iPhone Apps, offers three categories for mobile web access:

  • Microtasking: When the user interacts with their device for brief but frenzied periods of activity
  • Local: When the user wants to know what’s going on around them
  • Bored: When the user has nothing better to do and is looking to be entertained or otherwise diverted

Basic Design Considerations for the Mobile Web

Small Screens

You don’t have as much screen real estate for mobile devices as you do for PCs and laptops. That means, normally, you’ll be designing for multiple screen sizes. You need to make a decision early as to whether to use responsive design (where the device handles the changes in display) or adaptive design (where your servers handle the changes).

You want to focus on a “mobile first” approach which means designing for the smallest mobile platforms and increasing complexity from there.

A good process to follow would be:

  • Group device types based on similar screen sizes and try to keep this to a manageable number of groups
  • Define content rules and design adaption rules that enable you to display things well on each group of devices
  • Try to adhere as closely to web standards (W3) as possible when implementing flexible layouts

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The WebRecital is a dedicated User Interface/User Experience professionals who come together to provide design and research workshops, portfolio reviews, and educational outreach to the greater Seattle area.
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