In the age of rapid technological advances, it’s safe to assume that, soon content-access through connected mobile devices, will be far different than today. (Website user interfaces and content may need to be optimized for wearable devices, such as Google Glass, sooner than imagined)
Thus, it makes much more sense to build something which can be evolved simply, a couple of years down the lane, rather than carry out a complete redesign from ground up. Defining the long-term strategy for a mobile website design is as imperative, as taking a considered decision about the merits and demerits of making a mobile app vs. a mobile website.
Understand Tasks and Context
The relationship between tasks and context used to be much stronger in the early days of mobile usage. Web-browsing experience on mobile devices was largely dictated by the limitations of the devices – if someone did access a site from a mobile device it could be assumed they were on the move and catching up with something very specific.
But, today mobile devices are used anywhere and everywhere and increasingly for the same tasks as a desktop machine. Though context still plays an important role, it has assumed the form of how an user’s environment stimulates her to use her mobile device, rather than the ‘tasks’ stimulating the user to user her mobile device.
Understand mobile website usage and behavior
One of the most common myths about mobile website usage which causes misleading design decisions is, mobile users are always in a hurry and on the move, or that they are only interested in specific things when they use their mobile phones.
The fact today is, a major chunk of mobile website usage occurs when users have spare time, and that impacts how mobile website design should be approached.
It’s wiser to base design decisions on the practice that, increasingly most users are using smartphones for the same tasks as on the desktop – this is happening, already. But research into the target audience and the particular use cases should be done in order to guide the design decisions.
Primary content should be kept same across devices
As users increasingly are using mobile devices for the same tasks as on desktops and therefore expect a seamless journey across devices, there is a strong argument that a mobile website should be a reflection of the desktop version.
Most people are known to click the ‘Go to Desktop Version’ link, especially when a limited website or a site having substantially different composition is served to their mobile device, than they are familiar with. Hence, the primary content should be kept same, considering that the user will move from one device to another and the user will expect a highly seamless experience.
Desktop first or Mobile first?
‘Mobile first’ is the latest buzz these days. But as with most things, there is rarely a right or wrong approach.
The key lies in staying focused on the content with small screens in mind. Whether wireframes are being made for the mobile version, whilst detailed definitions are being carried out for the desktop version, first, or vice versa, doesn’t really matter.
As long as the content is considered sacrosanct, and clear answers exist as to why the content is there and how it should behave across devices, designers should being where they feel comfortable, but should not restrain from experimenting with either approach, first.
‘Quick’ access to expected content
The best mobile sites are clean and quick.
It is important to preempt the expectations of mobile website users, in particular. The content that users will expect should be made accessible, quickly. ‘Quickly’ is the keyword here. Example includes, reservation information, menus and location maps on a restaurant website. Technically, a lot goes into querying, fetching and rendering content, ‘quickly’ to a user’s small wireless device. Hence, this factor deserves special attention.
Limit navigation levels
Navigation levels should be two at most. Mobile users dislike tapping around while looking for the content they are after.
Choose fonts that render well and are easy on the eye
Use a Web font that is not serif, unless it is sharp and readable. Modern mobile browsers allow designers to be more creative with type, however, things still need to kept simple for users.
Cut down text input
For users of mobile websites, typing a string of words as long as tweets, SMSes, short emails is okay. But for all other use-cases, phrases longer than that and too many of that are not fun to type.
The pop-up keyboard in modern touch-screen phones is an interruptive experience for mobile websites. User frustration should be minimized by cutting down areas that require text-input, unless absolutely necessary.
Avoid addressing a large variety of mobile devices
Not everyone is using the same kind or brand of device. All smartphones do not have touch-screens. Not everyone has the same screen resolution or input method. Hence, don’t get hung up about it. Focus on the content – Make your content worth consuming and users will want to access it.
Consider battery life
Today smartphones and tablets have powerful processors. Powerful processors require more electricity to work, hence the more the processor, the faster the battery will discharge. This occurs when a website uses features such as Location-Awareness, or canvas animations. Such features consume processor resources and thus battery. So these features should be used judiciously.
When designing a website for mobile, designers must consider the factor of battery-life. Users will thank you for being considerate.
Embrace the limitations
It’s tempting to stuff every bit of functionality into a mobile website, but some things are more suited to desktop systems than wireless devices. And the converse is true. For example, location-based content is ideal for mobile, but WebGL rendering is best left to a desktop.