We’re all mobile designers now

Having just completed a week-long internal design summit on mobile UX–and attended a very timely talk by Rachel Hinman— it’s become very clear to me that we are ALL in effect mobile designers now, or certainly within the next 2-3 years! Designing for mobile device UI is becoming the “new normal” for a variety of reasons as I see it:

• The rapid proliferation of mobile devices (phones and tablets and e-readers) among consumer and enterprise audiences…and don’t forget: TV’s at home, in-car GPS and telematics, kitchen appliances, thermostats, exercise devices, health/medical monitors, etc. The CES 2011 show unveiled over 80+ tablets from various vendors–they’re multiplying like rabbits :-) Yikes!

• The fact is every business is thinking (or freaking out :-) how to get on the mobile bandwagon with a version of their apps on iPhone/iPad, Android, and soon Blackberry and WebOS devices. (not to mention Windows 7 Mobile too!) Mobility is becoming the top strategic priority for firms, getting their apps on respective App Stores…kinda like how everyone just had to have a website 15 yrs ago :-) Funny how history repeats itself.

* Thankfully we have folks like Rachel and Luke Wroblewski to help illuminate the path towards good mobile design. LukeW’s presentation and argument for a “mobile first” strategy in particular is of note, focusing on the need to get ahead of the mobile curve which has positive impact on the software UI design itself–simplicity, focused feature set, clarity of functions–which hopefully rebounds back to the “full app” too.

• Cloud is hot. Yes, it’s the vague internet buzzword du jour–misappropriated in those lame Microsoft ads–but as Joe Biden would say, it’s a pretty “big eff’ing deal” l in which apps/data/settings/profiles are hosted “off-premise” or “out there” for access from any device, any place, any time for “on-demand” use…Just think of Google Mail, Docs, Apps. Amazon web services. Mobile Me. Salesforce. XenDesktop. etc, etc.

• Mobile lifestyles are becoming the norm with workshifting paradigms and emerging device-friendly generation uptaking these new offerings (Gen Y, Millenials, etc). From texting to checking-in to social networking on the go among a range of contexts: in the car, at the airport, on the plane, at a cafe, at the doctor’s office, etc. This is the new normal! As a result as designers we have to be mindful of dynamic environments of use–spatially, temporally, sonically, etc.

• On a related note, waiting is the new context to optimize for. Think about all the situations where you are waiting for something–at the grocery store, doctor’s office, DMV line, jury duty, car repair shop, etc. Combine this with the “need” (ha!) to be connected and productive somehow all the time…reaching for that phone/tablet/e-reader is almost second-nature! How this impacts our attitudes for a work/life balance and reading habits is a whole other discussion and blog post ;-) hint: the attention structures are rapidly changing, becoming more “chunked” and “modular” and “across-device”…hmm!

As a result of all this, UI designers today need to start naturally thinking in terms of cross-device mobile ecosystems for their interface designs: desktop > web > device > and back again. Functions and content should be optimized for the device being used, for the situations likely to be encountered yet retain a sense of ubiquity, fluidity, and of course brand personality that defines the entire mobile ecosystem of interfaces as an integrative aesthetic experience. Whew!

And also…at a technical level the big challenge is how to leverage your interface designs across devices and surfaces of varying resolutions (pixel density) without quite literally going insane! Optimizing tools, processes, templates with engineering teams will be key.

Indeed we are all now mobile designers who must contend with varieties of interface form factors and contexts. It’s simply inevitable and expected. So either get busy designing or get busy denying. But it’s happening :-)


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