A few weeks ago, I had the good fortune to attend the IA Summit in New Orleans. The IA Summit represents a yearly “confluence of the best people and ideas in information architecture” and “the primary event for those redefining strategy and structure in support of cross-channel systems and user experiences.”
What transpired over the following four days was a combination of good food, music, networking, and most importantly, fruitful insights into the current state in the fields of user experience design and information architecture.
There were many informative sessions during the summit, with some very interesting and smart speakers who have obviously given a lot of thought to what matters most to us UXers and IAs. This post is intended to be the first in a series about this year’s summit, and I’ll start with Josh Clark’s session, The Myths of Mobile Context.
According to Clark, there are seven deadly mobile myths that are really screwing up the way we provide mobile services to our users. He said we tend to oversimplify mobile needs and boil them down to really simple use cases. In doing so, we risk building dumbed-down apps that patronize our users more than help them. The seven mobile myths, and the truth of each, according to Clark, are as follows:
1. Myth: Mobile users are rushed and distracted. Truth: Mobile is not just on-the-go.
Have you ever used your smartphone in the bathroom? You may never admit it, but 40% of people did. That’s right, 40% have posted to Twitter or “liked” in Facebook while doing their business (in reference to this statistic, Luke W. says 60% of the people surveyed are liars).
Additionally, 93% of mobile users use their smartphone at home. People are using their mobile devices on the couch, in the kitchen, in bed, or during that airport layover, according to Clark. I’m pretty guilty of doing this myself. I don’t fire up the laptop to check the day’s weather in the morning, or to check movie times, nor do I use it to check the latest soccer scores. I use my phone in all kinds of places and for all different reasons. I’ve even use my phone to check the TV schedule while sitting in front of the TV. What’s more interesting is that 28% of mobile web users rarely or never use a desktop computer. At the UW, we want to know what percentage of our students exclusively use a mobile device to connect to the internet when at home. The context of mobile use is rapidly changing, stay tuned for more crazy ways people are using mobile.
2. Myth: Mobile = Less. Truth: Mobile content and features should be — at least — at the same level as any other platform.
Clark says mobile is not, and never should be, a “lite” version of your site. Mobile is not less. On this point, Clark disagree whole-heartedly with usability guru Jakob Nielsen, the latter arguing for a separate mobile site with less content and less features that are not core to the mobile use case. Clark admonishes never to confuse context with intent. In other words, the user’s intent is never just related to context.
3. Myth: Complexity is a dirty word. Truth: Complexity is awesome and give both life and apps texture.
Users want uncomplicated apps even if the apps themselves are complex. It’s our job to make complexity uncomplicated and figure out how to create complex, yet comprehensible, interfaces. This is a great challenge for designers, and we should not shy away from complexity. Let’s take complexity as an opportunity to create something amazing, not be afraid of it and design something that in the end feels lacking to the user.
4. Myth: Extra taps and clicks are evil. Truth: In mobile, tap quality is far more important that tap quantity.
As traditional web designers, we have always sought to decrease the amount of clicks it takes our users to go from point A to point B within any given interface. But in mobile, this concern is a non-issue. Clark said as long as each tap delivers satisfaction, extra taps are A-ok. He put forth the idea of “progressive disclosure”, or, providing the user features and content a little bit at a time, as people need it or ask for it. Progressive disclosure helps uncomplicate complexity and in this aspect agrees with Jakob Nielsen that there should be one big idea per screen, and that mobile experiences should be sharp and bite-sized. This is not to mean, though, that we can’t serve lots of bites. Let our taps, however many there may be, deliver satisfaction.
5. Myth: Gotta have a mobile website. Truth: You need a great mobile experience, but not necessarily a separate website.
It is important to think in terms of a mobile strategy before deciding what technologies to use to build a mobile experience. Responsive or adaptive designs may serve well for some sites providing simple content to users. More feature-driven sites and apps may indeed require a separate mobile site or even native app to really provide the best user experience. You may not need a separate website or even a responsive site at all. Do some research, talk to your users. Find out what is the best mobile strategy and then decide how to implement that great mobile experience to your users. Clark’s advise: don’t be dogmatic, be flexible and use good judgement. What it comes down to: “it depends.”
6. Myth: Mobile is about apps. Truth: An app is not a strategy. It’s just an app. (related to #5 above)
Your product is not an app, your product is the content you are providing by means of your application. We tend to focus too much on the presentation of content to the point of obsession, Clark said, and we need to accept that content will take many forms. Our mobile strategy should focus on building from the content out, and not the container in. In ACA, we are beginning to think more and more about mobile strategies and less and less about mobile apps. Implementation details should never take precedence over a comprehensive mobile strategy that accounts for the best user experience possible.
7. Myth: CMSs and APIs are for database nerds. Truth: Designers, managers and content producers must all care about this stuff too.
Content designs, workflows, storage, transport, all these elements play an important role in user experience and information architecture. We can never control and hand-craft how content will be presented on any imaginable device, so we need to make our metadata more useful that ever before. Metadata is the key here. Metadata is used to structure content, and by refining the metadata we can place content where we want it, style it how we want it and in ways that are appropriate to the device. Clark quoted 18-year-old designer Ethan Resnick who said “Metadata is the new art direction.” Through metadata, Clark said, we can get a foothold of creative control in this chaotic world of connected devices.
So there you have it. Seven mobile myths according to Josh Clark. Would you agree or disagree with any of these myths?
More goodness from the 2012 IA Summit coming in the next few weeks. Let us know what you think in the comments.