Since I attended An Event Apart 2011 here in Seattle, including the day-long mobile web workshop with Luke W., our UX design team has been thinking about what it would look like for us to start designing and developing tools for mobile devices. We’ve begun spending some of our dedicated innovation time on some preliminary thinking and exploration of mobile user-centered design in general. So when we saw “A User-centered Approach to Mobile Design” in Smashing Magazine, we thought it would be a good starting point for us to answer some of the questions and address the points raised in the article, but from our perspective within the higher-education community.
1. Assess Current Situation: Do You Really Need A Mobile Website Now?
Luke W. opened his presentation at An Event Apart with some kind of astounding statistics about the very rapid growth rate of mobile web use. His main point was that no matter what we predict in terms of growth — and people are making a lot of dramatic predictions, including that “global mobile data traffic should grow 26x over the next 5 years” (from a Cisco Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast [pdf], summarized at Ars Technica) — the only thing we can really predict is that it is all happening faster than we can predict. (I don’t know if he was intending to scare me or not, but it worked.) But as Lyndon Cerejo, the author of the Smashing Magazine article, asks, “… there will be 91.4 million mobile internet users in the US by the end of this year, but how many of them are in your target audience?”
Since our target audience is broad, including pretty much everyone on campus, we decided to narrow our focus for the purposes of mobile design exploration, and concentrate on students. Our initial sense was that that they would be the population most likely to readily adopt a mobile application for classroom or other educational use, and that their use of such a tool could be used as future encouragement for faculty members to explore using mobile tools, as well. So we went looking for some data about mobile use on campus, as well as students’ use of mobile devices, to find out if these assumptions would hold true.
Cell phone use in 19-24-year-olds across the US
Starting with broad strokes, I first sought data about users in our students’ general age group across the country. In July 2010, The Pew Research Center published data on “wireless internet users” and “mobile data applications,” including the following (truncated) segment on how 18-to-29-year-olds are using mobile devices:
Young adults are heavily invested in the mobile Web, although 30-to-49 year olds are gaining ground.
Nine-in-ten 18-to-29 year olds own a cell phone, and these young cell owners are significantly more likely than those in other age groups to engage in all of the mobile data applications we asked about in our survey. Among 18-29 year old cell phone owners:
- 95% send or receive text messages.
- 93% use their phone to take pictures.
- 81% send photos or videos to others.
- 65% access the internet on their mobile device.
- 60% use their phones to play games or record a video.
- 52% have used their phone to send or receive email.
- 33% have posted a photo or video online from their phone.
- 21% have used a status update service such as Twitter from their phone.
Source: http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1654/wireless-internet-users-cell-phone-mobile-data-applications, published July 7, 2010; accessed June 29, 2011.
It seems pretty clear that this age group in general consists of heavy users of mobile devices and the mobile web. But what about our students in particular? Stay tuned for our next post about mobile devices at UW, and UW students’ use of them.