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Designing for the Mobile Web


If you can remember the last time we talked about it, you’ll remember that the Web is moving to, well, people’s pockets. As more and more smart phones become capable of accessing the web, new design issues arise. How do you design a site for a screen with a screen resolution smaller than the eight-year-old 800×600 standard? The answer is very delicately.

It starts with your audience. Who are you trying to reach? Understanding who they are and what they’re looking for is the first step you need to take. As this guy weighs in, there are three types of mobile web user: the casual surfer, the repeat visitor, and the “urgent, now!” visitor.

1.    The casual surfer is looking for nothing in particular. Perhaps he’s playing with his iPhone waiting in the drive-through line, or she’s browsing on her Blackberry before her flight takes off. The point is that no one is that it’s an informal and short site visit—the information should be organized clearly and effectively or the visitor will leave.

2.    The repeat visitor is seeking new content. Regular updates will keep this type of user more interested and involved in checking your mobile site.

3.    The third kind of visitor is looking for information and they want it ASAP. If your information isn’t properly organized, they’ll simply find a better way to find what they’re looking for. It is critical you’re your site is easier to navigate than the sites of your competitors.

Once you’ve planned your site, it’s time for design. It’s best to keep it simple—the mobile Best Buy web site, for example, has just two search fields: one to help find a product and one to find the closest store. When designing for the online web, less is most certainly more.

Ultimately, your design is for your audience and not your portfolio. It is important to remember that in mobile web design form follows function. If your potential customers can’t easily navigate your site they’ll leave to find a site that will work for them.

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  1. December 30, 2008 at 7:22 pm

    Hey Tom,

    I agree with you, if someone lands a mobile site that is too complex, or just does not flow easily, they will most likely leave it, just like on a regular site.

    I think that mobile websites have a huge potential on e-commerce, for example on impulsive purchases.

    If you think how easy it is to pay with PayPal for example, you can expect that people who are “addicted” (perhaps “addicted” it’s a bit strong, but you get the idea) to online shopping, waiting on drive-through line will make some shopping.

    The one thing I was a bit dissapointed at when I first started playing with an iphone is the way it runs javascript and jQuery, since it takes some of the nice effects on a lot of websites. In face, windows mobile almost completely lacks of JS support, and you can only do some VERY simple effects.

    I’m just starting out on the web design for mobile phones field, but I can see it will be the next huge deal and I definitely want to be on top of that! Here’s the site we’re working on: http://www.webdesignformobiledevices.com/

    Best wishes for 2009!

    – Emiliano

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