Friday, April 13, 2007

Ten rules for designing a mobile site

Rich Holdsworth at Wapple gives his top ten rules for designing a mobile internet site.

1. It has to work on all devices.
This is the biggest problem facing anyone building a mobile internet site. It is far more difficult than covering the inconsistencies in a few web browsers - there are literally thousands of devices out there with all kinds of quirks and capabilities.

The thing is, by its very nature a mobile site, is well, mobile. This means it has to transfer across a multitude of devices. You might be targeting a certain demographic that all have high-end handsets, but it would be foolish to allow your site to fail should they want to share the experience with someone with an older device.

2. White screens, black text and blue links are so 1998
Just like old-skool websites, a technically inferior mobile site stands out like a sore thumb. A site built with little design consideration is rarely able to carry a brand accurately. So strive to design in a colour scheme that actually reflects the message of the site you’re creating.

3. It has got to be personal
Mobile users are accessing your site on a device that is primarily designed for two-way communication. So why not continue this on your mobile site? Put simply, users will respond positively and more frequently return to your site if they feel that there are real people behind it. Present regular updates, request and respond to feedback, involve users in the evolution of your site. They will love you all the more for it.

4. A WAP site is not a web site
When we sit in front of a web page, most of us will be viewing on at least a 17 inch screen, using a full keyboard and armed with a mouse. All of this makes clicking on a link a quick and easy process.

On a mobile device things are a little more limited. The screen is smaller, the page is vertically stacked and scrolling top to bottom can take what seems like a lifetime.So, ensure that your content is bite-sized and easily navigable. Don’t fill a page with useless links and try to group common features and functions together.

5. Balance form and function
It is great to build a mobile site stacked full of well designed graphics, rich text and widgets. But it can take a long time to squeeze down to a handset. It is essential to balance the amount of graphics and their quality with the desired speed to download. It is true that good content is worth downloading but users will not be happy if you add 3 seconds to every page load just to have a cool banner at the top of the page.

6. Go beyond wallpapers, ringtones and java games
If white screens, black text and blue links are so 1998 then simply ticking the content boxes and nothing more is very 2005. There is now so much more that can be achieved with mobile sites; those that have not bothered are beginning to fall by the wayside. Interactive services, dynamic content, profiling, feedback, data acquisition, database integration, information revelations, discoverable content, user awards, the list goes on and on. And it is all available with the right technology behind your site. So do it!

7. Do not expect the same results across every device
It would be ideal if you could make a site and know that it was going to look exactly the same no matter what handset was being used to view it. Sorry, that is not going to happen! The fact is, with so many different screen sizes, font sizes, rendering quirks, markup capabilities and bugs out there, it is simply not possible to create an entirely consistent look. So, if your site renders differently on a Razr compared to a W800i, do not sweat. Chances are your end user with his Razr will not know any different.

8. Test Test Test
Then test some more. With new devices arriving faster than X-factor contestants get the boot, it is important to stay on top of them all as they do not always tend to adhere to the rules or standards. Or you could invest in a platform that takes care of new devices for you.

9. Deliver dynamically
Hard coded sites just do not cut it. To stand half a chance of achieving the above rules across multiple devices, dynamic sites are the only way to go. This will mean adapting graphics, choosing which markup to deliver, working around known device issues, and so forth. This does require a higher grade of site technology, but it is worth it in the end.

10. Make it worthwhile
From the outset, users will have invested a significant amount of energy just finding your site, by texting in or by entering a thumb blistering URL.

If your site does not impress, or at least entice, from the homepage, users tend to switch off straight away. So make this count most of all. Beyond that, follow the above rules and as long as your initial idea is interesting (ie, it is not a mobile site about potato varieties) your users ought to respond positively!

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