Posted by Nicole Hambleton / Article /

The Australian market demonstrates the second highest percentage of (37%) adopters of smartphones in the world, second only to Singapore.

Everyday people pick up their mobiles, not just to make calls but to use online apps and surf the web. Going mobile isn’t just about a shift in platforms it’s a shift in consumer behaviour.

Responsive design can cater for information driven sites but as the interactivity requirements increase or become specialised you may need to make the next leap to a dedicated mobile site.

Why is mobile web growing?

Research indicates some time between 2013 – 2015 more people worldwide will access sites on their mobiles than the standalone desktop. This shift in consumer behaviour is happening very quickly and a lot of companies are struggling to keep up with the new technology and marketing opportunities. Cost, confusion over which mobile strategy to adopt and a basic understanding of what the user is looking for are all stumbling blocks for clients. However standing back and holding off for fear of getting it wrong is not the answer. We’re all going mobile and it’s happening fast. One way or another the customer will be on their smartphone in the next few years and every business needs to be there with them.

The good news for clients exploring mobile web is that its new to most companies and it really is just taking off now. There are so many innovative and interesting ways to make your digital strategy mobile. Shopping, maps, social media integration, customer feedback, blogs, they are all online and should be accessible by mobile web. The mobile hasn’t just changed the medium people are using, it’s changed the way they consume both products and information. There has been a noticeable shift from passive absorption of marketing material to an interactive communication medium. The customer expects to have a voice they never had before, an instant connection that fulfils their needs as soon as they think of them.

A potential customer may be looking for their nearest restaurant, trying to find directions to their job interview, or writing a review of the service they just received. The mobile is a way to connect and interact with the resources to achieve an outcome. As soon as a customer thinks of a problem, they expect someone to have thought of an online solution.

In addition to the mobile customer, there are also a growing number of people who are using their phones from the comfort of their lounge room. A recent Telstra survey stated 90% of mobile users accessed websites at home and that included 56% from bed, 54% while watching TV, 33% while on the toilet and 23% while cooking. It seems the mobile is not just for outside the house anymore. Don’t think either that it’s only for the Gen Y or iGeneration market, over 40% of users are over 40.

What is mobile web?

A dedicated website differs from a responsive design or even a mobile app. A mobile website is essentially a website that is purposely designed to suit a mobile screen, using a built in browser like Safari. A mobile website is only accessible while you have internet access and uses a URL just like a desktop site. It is crafted to suit the behaviour of a mobile device user, to make the experience purposeful.

We’ll discuss the difference between mobile web design and mobile apps in the next newsletter and why you might choose one option over the other.

The overall consensus from both a design and development perspective is that a site should be designed mobile first. This fits in with the idea that mobile is going to dominate the market soon. Think small and expand from there, rather than re-purposing a desktop version. If a larger site already exists, start from scratch, but if you are designing a whole new campaign, assume mobile first even if the client doesn’t have it planned just yet. Chances are in a few months they’ll be back for the mobile version.

Bandwidth

Mobiles are convenient but they don’t offer the same download bandwidth as a fixed desktop connection. It’s not as fast or as cheap, so how much a user has to download is important.

What you leave off a mobile site can be just as important as what you leave on. Don’t offer the user huge downloads, an annual prospectus in PDF format or hundreds of comments to trawl through, leave that for the desktop version. With a screen the size of your palm you want that information right at your fingertips, either a quick scroll, swipe or click away at most. Like with any advertising medium, important information comes first. There may even be features the client wants to showcase on the mobile that have little value on a desktop, so focus on these areas.

Screen size

The format, orientation and size of a mobile device is different to a desktop. The design needs to be purposely suited to this layout.

Make sure the text, images and buttons are big enough. A good mobile design limits how much is on the screen or allows scrolling to ensure that the user can clearly see what they are doing and can use a normal sized finger to make a selection. Don’t be afraid of vertical scroll bars on a mobile but do be afraid of cramming too much into the small screen and compromising on text or icon size. Avoid horizontal scroll bars though, people only want to go sideways if it’s a swipe action.

User behaviour

When designing for the mobile you need to think about why the user would be viewing it on a small screen. Are they on the move, are they looking for something specific, is it just a casual browsing experience or are they looking to take an action.

People use a mobile differently to a desktop, from the type of information they expect to see, to how they interact with it. A mobile doesn’t use a mouse, it uses fingers to swipe, scroll, tap. You have to expect that’s exactly what people will try and do to the site and if it’s not responding to their actions frustration will ensue.

Visualise a mobile site like any website, utilise a flow map to show user behaviour and determine if that is what you want the user to be doing, from there you can go to wireframes. Often people view a site on a mobile for convenience, they don’t want a lesser experience they just want it without having to move from their current location whether that be the beach or the lounge. The idea is the lead the user through to a goal, supported by the company’s marketing or business strategy. That goal may vary from disseminating information to making a purchase but it is important to know what you hope the user to achieve on their mobile when accessing the site.

Clever functionality can be built for mobile users that lead their behaviour on the site. For example on a travel site you consider features such as locating a vendor, finding an address, making a booking or combining deals. On a restaurant site making a booking, using a map to locate them and perhaps leaving a review could incite an action. The most important thing is that you understand what the user is thinking when they log onto their phone and design around that purpose.

Sometimes specific user behaviour or a campaign approach might warrant the development of a mobile app instead of a mobile website. We will discuss the differences between the two in our next article.

Key points for mobile design

  • Your user is on a mobile so make the site quick and easy to access. Consider all the images, video and audio and keep it simple, engaging and purposeful.
  • Think about navigation and search placement. With such a small screen its probable the user will move between blocks of content quickly, keep the navigation accessible at all times.
  • Think icons, swiping actions and clickable images rather than decorative or large images. Banners, photos and other graphical elements may take up too much screen real estate, whereas strategically placed icons or interactive images will make the site engaging and user friendly.
  • Beware of plug-ins and extensions, most are not supported on mobile devices and will just frustrate the users. Discuss HTML5/CSS3 with your developer.
  • Build your design around the function of the site. Lead the user behaviour and build around this.
  • Consider using sites that offer design resources specifically for mobile web such as http://teehanlax.com, for GUI templates or http://cssiphone.com for inspiration.

Every new site should be thinking mobile, dedicated, responsive or application based. So if your client isn’t thinking mobile yet be sure to give them the stats. We now recommend any new build to have a mobile strategy as standard, just to ensure that it will be accessible to its customer base. If you are ready to make the pitch feel free to use this article as a catalyst and contact us if you need more info.

References:

http://dejanseo.com.au/smartphone-usage-in-australia/
http://digitalmarketinglab.com.au/index.php/2010/10/23/mobile-mania-in-australia-mobile-internet-usage-statistics/
http://blog.marginmedia.com.au/Our-Blog/bid/81865/Smartphone-Use-in-Australia-The-Advantage-for-Marketers
http://mobile.smashingmagazine.com/2010/11/03/how-to-build-a-mobile-website/#more-66989