Mobile sites requires prioritising

A mobile device at a mobile seminar. Photo: Hans Petter Fosseng

I attended an interesting breakfast seminar about the Mobile Web hosted by Netlife Research in Oslo 2 November. Eirik Hafver Rønjum, Senior Usability Specialist at Netlife Research, started a discussion on the concept of «mobile» in «Mobile Web». If you use a laptop on a train, is it mobile? When you use your smartphone in bed, is that mobile? According to Rønjum a desktop on a train definitely is mobile use, the smartphone in bed isn’t (or sitting on the toilet, for that matter). Mobile is context, not device.

It is an interesting standpoint indeed. Traditionally we think of devices – mobile phones and tablets – when the Mobile Web is discussed. If you think of mobile as a concept for users «on the go», you need to prioritise core content differently than you’d do thinking about devices alone. Mobile should provide content and services suited for quick response and whatever your spesific target groups needs in a mobile context. You’d might want to consider location spesific services too, if your content is relevant in a local context.

In any case it’s recommended to design for mobile first. It’s easier to scale up than to scale down, and a mobile first approach forces you to prioritise core content first – which is essential on smaller screens and slow connections.

A good place to start is the site’s user statistics (eg. Google Analytics) to see which screen sizes you should optimalise your site and content for. If you’ve got a noteable percentage of users with smaller screens than the previous «gold standard» 1024 x 768 desktop, you’d know what to prioritise from now on and forward.

According to Jakob Nielsen there’s actually not that different working with content for mobile users than desktop. As Nielsen puts it desktop copywriting must be concise, but mobile copywriting must be even more concise. Summarised it all comes down to reduce secondary information and services. Having said that Nielsen do recommend that mobile sites should have even fewer features than the desktop site.

To summarise, what works on the desktop doesn’t necessarily work on mobile – and vice versa. Luke Wroblewski recommends you to think about what mobile is uniquely good at and align it with the needs of your users.