For Designers, a Moveable Feast of Challenges

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There has been a good deal of debate over whether the iPhone will be a significant corporate tool, or if BlackBerry and more business-oriented devices will withstand the challenge.


That may be missing the point, at least to some extent. Of course, whether companies will be buying millions of the Apple devices in the coming years is important. But the even bigger issue -- well presented in this NewsFactor piece -- is that the iPhone represents a major milestone in the development of the mobile Web.


That bigger picture touches on the evolution of designing for mobile devices. As this expertly crafted slide show demonstrates, mobile devices are significantly different animals from desktops. Besides the obvious, people on the go use the two differently. Desktops are used for a vast array of tasks, some of which are deep and time consuming. Mobile devices, for the most part, are used to quickly gather salient data or complete communications. The different use cases drive design in subtle and overt ways.


NewsFactor Network suggests that the traditional ways of making content available on the mobile Web (do nothing and let users deal with cumbersome sites; streamline existing sites; use style sheets; create parallel mobile sites) are fading, and the advent of the iPhone is a catalyst. The iPhone and increasingly sophisticated operating systems allow the creation of context-aware highly functional sites. The iPhone, the writer says, has stimulated much research and development that will lead to a great increase in the number and sophistication of mobile applications.


This ZDNet piece, written from the point of view of a designer, suggests that the challenge of small screens is more rewarding than the broad canvas of a desktop. The writer suggests that application designers must get more creative as the screen shrinks. The commentary suggests that the industry may be at the beginning of a phase in which more designers are going to be attracted to the limited confines of a mobile screen and that better design tools will emerge.


This mobile designer's blog posted at Little Springs Design begins by pointing out some typical problems associated with how Google Maps and other mobile applications are designed. The heart of the piece is a list of four things that mobile designers should do: Keep unimportant data (such as reminders to upgrade and advertising) at the edge or hidden; anticipate how the application will be used and make those actions easier; help the user input needed information; and provide preference to information entered by users over predictive data generated by the software.


The thread running through these hints is that, even under the best of circumstances, a mobile device is difficult to operate (especially for someone over 30 years of age), and that user friendliness is the highest priority. What the success of the iPhone makes clear is that whether for business or personal use, ease-of-use and convenience are what people want in their mobile devices.