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Kicking Off Your Mobile Project

Dennis Kardys Director of Design & Production
#Mobile, #Responsive Design, #Design Advice, #Discovery
Published on March 18, 2014

If you're struggling to develop your mobile strategy, learn how to kick your project off right, build consensus within your team and pave confidently forward.

You finally have the resources allocated to develop a much needed and long overdue mobile site. But now that you're rearing to go, where do you begin? If you’ve spent time perusing your competitors’ mobile sites, you might have noticed that there are a heckuva lot of different approaches that people are taking. Confidently choosing a path forward can be challenging. A well planned mobile site can increase your traffic and conversions, while inspiring positive impressions of your brand. In contrast, a poorly designed mobile site will leave your users feeling frustrated and abandoning their tasks in hope of having better luck elsewhere. Who wants that?! So here are some tips for kicking off your mobile project right:

Getting Everyone On the Same Page

1. Uncover Expectations and Assumptions

At the onset of every project, different expectations and assumptions lie dormant within the minds of each person on the project team. Whether cognizant of it or not, we all impose stereotypes about what people want to do on mobile devices and when and how they want to do it. Left unchecked, conflicting mental models lead to opinionated debates over hypothetical use cases. This can result in compromised design decisions, and may even drive the project to a standstill fueled by internal politics. This is leads us right into our second pointer:

2. Create a Shared Understanding of Mobile Web Best Practices

Though different objectives may demand different mobile strategies, there are some fundamental principles that can (and should) guide the design of your mobile site—regardless of the approach you ultimately decide upon. Getting your whole team up to speed with actual data about what users want from mobile can lead to more productive conversations about content and design. And getting everyone rallied around mobile web design best practices can be instrumental in coming to consensus around proposed tactics.

3. Explore the Distinct Opportunities Afforded by Mobile

It may be tempting to simply cut some cruft and port over content from your existing website. But in doing so, you may be missing your greatest opportunity. It’s natural to think of your wide, pixel perfect desktop website as the core experience, and the smaller mobile site as its secondary counterpart—a website-lite, if you will—designed to simply ease the pain for those poor souls trying to navigate your full site on a tiny screen. But if you’re in the market for a mobile site, chances are it’s because your current site only took into consideration a single context of use: someone sitting at a desk, on wide screen, using a mouse and keyboard. Would you have made the same design and content choices if you knew that:

  • your user’s screen may be as large as a television, or as small as a watch?
  • your user may be at a desk, on their couch, moving around a campus, working on a factory floor, or walking through a store?
  • you user may be relying on the exclusive or combined use of a keyboard, a mouse, their hands, their voice, a stylus, or a trackpad?

A well considered mobile design should accommodate a wide variety of contexts and modes of input. If you do this, what you end up with is content that’s accessible to a much larger audience pool. Pair that with the built-in technology many smartphones and tablets are factory equipped with (for example: audio input/output, location awareness, mapping tools, local storage of data, camera and phone features, etc.), and it becomes quite evident that when designing with mobile in mind, you have the potential to deliver an incredibly compelling experience to your users—so much more than you ever could to those poor souls stuck using a desktop-only site.

Although you may be contemplating an independent mobile site now, you'll likely want your mobile and desktop experiences to converge down the road. In the short term, your mobile site can influence the decisions you make on your desktop site, and in the long term, it can be the seed for a fully responsive site!

Planning a Mobile Discovery

So, dismantling assumptions and developing a shared understanding of mobile context and opportunity—it all sounds great, but how do you get there? A good start is to get all your stakeholders into a room and guide them through a series of activities designed to tune them into the concepts outlined above. In our case, this often means anywhere from a few hours to a few days of stakeholder discussions, sketching workshops, paper prototyping, and content strategy workshops. These discussions can continue across the duration of the project, and post launch additional prototyping and usability testing can also help.

You might be thinking, “This sounds an awful lot like a website Discovery,” and if so, you’d be right! But even if you’ve conducted a discovery process in the past, don’t let that discourage you from conducting another one, more specifically for mobile. Discovery should never be thought of as this big obstacle that must be overcome to begin a project. In the vein of a culture of discovery, you should be continually trying to observe, learn, and adapt. You should always be able to build off of previous insights, and the scale and depth of the activities you plan should always vary in proportion to the size of the project you’re working on.

Ultimately, it comes down to learning just what you need to learn to move forward wisely, and strategically preparing your team for the challenges to come. If you can do that, I have no doubt your mobile endeavors will be a roaring success!

What challenges and questions do you have about getting started with a mobile project? Let us know in the comments below.