The “mobile design” reign is gaining speed by the nanosecond. Even as I write to you, hundreds of other bloggers are typing anxiously at their computers, drafting posts where they promise to provide readers with magical tips and tricks on how to effectively design for mobile. So you’ve seen Luke W’s excellent “Mobile to the Future” presentation and read Mary Meeker’s Internet Trend Report, it’s obvious that the mobile business is fired up and here to stay, so it’s no wonder there’s so much buzz around excelling at it.

Don’t get me wrong, all this talk about mobile is necessary if your company hopes to stay on top of consumer interests. Today’s mobile devices are being used anywhere and everywhere and increasingly for the same tasks as a desktop, so a good mobile design is necessary if you want to provide your customers with a continuous journey across platforms at the same level of satisfaction (aka responsive design.) However,don’t fall into the trap of believing a mobile website, for example, is just a smaller version of a standard PC website. That’s not the case. While the two sites should have approximately the same feature set, there are several basic design notes that need to be taken into consideration when developing for mobile.

1. So you’re designing for mobile…

First and foremost, before you even touch your developer “tools”, you need to ask yourself the most basic question of them all: What mobile platform you are designing for? Is it iOS or Android? One may soon have to start considering Windows and for all we know Mozilla as well. Each platform comes with a different screen size. Don’t even think about starting the UX phase before clearing that out. It might sound as obvious as the fact that there are clouds in the sky, but you won’t believe how many overlook this or don’t analyze it properly.

Ok, you’ve determined the platform. Now start considering the native touch gestures and behaviors that are exclusive to each platform. Is the goal to design a mobile native app, a web app or a mobile responsive site? You should also take a closer look at the User Interface patterns specific to a particular platform the users are familiar with. By using these patterns you ensure there’s a minimal learning curve for the user when he interacts with your platform.

2. Are you talking to me?

To be successful you have to develop for your customers, not for mobile. After all, they’re the ones that will play with your carefully crafted toy and they are the ones who need to like it! So get to know your target audience and their behavior patterns. The more comfortable you are with your audience the better you’ll feel about choosing the design tone and the language tone so that the user feels at home.

3. To break or not to break UI guidelines

When it comes to mobile developing, adhering to UI guidelines is crucial. They are there for a reason. They bring a sense of order to the chaos. Following those rules is a good thing from a user’s perspective, because they are able to experience and interact with a product that retains a sense of familiarity. Having said that, if you want to innovate, to change some things here, and you think your version of things will make your user’s life easier, go for it. Break the rules. Sometimes innovation can mature into “easy-to-use” as users get accustomed to new things. And, in the end, maybe that’s what will set you apart.

4. Layers players

Some say that in order to aid navigation, you should limit your layers. You’re not baking a wedding cake, after all. But as I’ve come to see, the number of layers hardly matters in navigation if the user experience is intuitive enough. Users don’t notice the number of clicks or the number of screens they come across if the system/portal/app engages them intellectually and visually. If you make it interesting for them, they won’t see it as performing a task, but discovering cool things with each following click. If I laid out an ideal case scenario, I’d say don’t go beyond two layers of navigation. Don’t make it too intense. Don’t tire that poor user’s fingers.

5. A complex interface is a no-go

Actually, if you’re smart you can make something complex equal something mobile friendly. A good approach would be to limit the features or functionalities you offer on mobile as opposed to your desktop site and make sure only the important features are available on mobile. You can also hide or disable an extensive menu section into a small collapsible one that utilizes space while offering the same amount of functionality. Google spreadsheets are a good example of how a complex mobile experience can be made as functional and useful as the full-fledged interface. The mobile experience offers that special kind of ‘in-your-face’ interface by using a ‘what-you-see-is-what-you-experience’ approach. If you’re smart enough to take advantage of that, you can make complex your best friend.

6. Are you fond of font?

You should be! Font has as much relevance and beauty to it as an image has. The world is clearly classified into portals that use larger than life, colorful, engaging images that entice the user to explore the system. Those who use exclusive fonts give out messages that look beautiful while communicating clearly at the same time. The trend is clearly changing from having big images to having beautifully looking text backed out by a strong message.

To sum it up, when you’re designing for mobile you need to be proactive rather than reactive. Technological advances happen quickly in mobile design and new features are constantly being introduced. You need to continuously be on your toes and stay on top of new trends. Most importantly, be passionate! This is the biggest thing since, well, mobile phones.

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