Optimizing Your Mobile Design

With page views from mobile devices on the rise, shifting focus from standard to optimized and responsive design has become even more vital in preventing alienation of your site’s visitors. Some of the obvious elements exist: you have to use responsive design to make sure that your mobile website will fit on any size of screen. You have to design your mobile website so that people can use it with one thumb while they hold their phone with the other four and their dog’s leash with the other.  You have to design a mobile site so that it loads quickly and puts minimal strain on the user’s bandwidth limitations.

But there’s much more to the mobile web experience. Mobile websites are more than just tiny versions of your website, because people interact with mobile devices in different ways than they interact with desktop devices.

Physical Differences

The biggest way in which people interact differently with mobile devices is in the physical realm. Mobile websites, for example, don’t like text links. They’re generally too small, and if you have multiple of them in the same vicinity, it’s too easy to click the wrong one. Mobile websites like big, clear buttons that are easy to push. Buttons that would, on a desktop site, be a horrible waste of space.

Contextual Differences

People use mobile devices in different contexts than they use desktop devices. Generally, people on mobile devices don’t go to a website unless they really want something, such as to purchase something, to learn a specific bit of information, or to obtain an app for a specific purpose. That’s why it’s critical that mobile websites be tools (user-oriented) rather than platforms for items that you want the world to see (business-oriented).

Geographical Differences

A desktop computer is being used either at home, at work, or sometimes from a public library or school. A mobile device is constantly on the move, and often will be happy to share its current location with your website if it’s asked nicely. That means that mobile sites can be set up to provide geography-sensitive information and ads, which makes them much more valuable to a mobile user than an equivalent desktop site might be.

Mental Differences

Perhaps the least-studied difference between desktop and mobile users has more to do with their mindset upon opening your website than anything else. But the good news is this is potentially one of the most powerful differences to exploit. Mobile devices are largely ‘fun’ things — the genre still hasn’t developed to the point where people doing ‘hard business’ would be willing to do that business mostly on a mobile device. So where a desktop is a tool for work and for fun, a mobile device is largely a fun thing first, and a practical tool second.

That gives developers an opportunity to add things to their mobile site that they might not add to their desktop site. For example, links to download silly apps or games, parodies of their own site, and other fun items that will get mobile users talking without distracting them from the effectiveness of your actual site. If done effectively, putting features like these on a mobile site can give businesses a true leg up on their competition. And since many companies don’t even have a mobile site yet, let alone a well-designed one, web developers can stay on the cutting edge while giving their clients the chance to dominate their niche with a dazzlingly effective mobile website.

About the Author:

Rob Toledo is working alongside Staples preparing designers for the influx of mobile design optimization that is now occurring. From designing for desktop computers to laptops, mobile devices and whatever may come next, he plans on keeping his ear to the ground. He can be reached on Twitter @stentontoledo

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