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From Bumbling with a Brick to Gliding with a Galaxy

The internet on your mobile has come a long way. I remember the fascination of being able to check the football scores on a green and black screened mobile via WAP, for which internet was more of a bonus than a core function – unlike the essential ‘Snake’ game! Nowadays however mobile phones usually not only see the internet as an important function, but as a prime consideration.

This was something I never gave any consideration until my second-from-last holiday, where due to a combination of factors I found myself having to check my e-mail on an old Sony-Ericsson phone. By far and away not the oldest internet capable phone, it even had a colour screen(!) – but one which caused me to think a lot about the usability we all now take for granted. Even trying to log in on a screen of perhaps 1″x1.5″ with a bizarre and far from intuitive design really led me to realise how we all take for granted not only the speed, clarity and beauty of mobile websites nowadays – but also the usability.

The User Interface, UI, is a big consideration nowadays. No longer is it enough for it to simply ‘work’, now it must work well and easily. For a beautiful website to be considered as working well it must work well on all devices. Be this a large widescreen desktop or laptop PC, a tablet or a mobile – gone are the days of PC-centric design.  Indeed, the majority of internet browsing is now done on a mobile phone and web design is now done ‘mobile-first’.

Some of the main considerations for mobile are content size and layout, and user interface layout. We have a limited space on the screen, and need to maximise usage of that while balancing off against ease of navigation and usage. There’s no point in a site looking great on a mobile if people can’t navigate! It was this concern that lead to the commonly seen three-line menu button – commonly referred to as a ‘burger’ menu button. Clicking the ‘burger’ expands the menu and brings up full size, and often full page, navigation. This allows a trade off between the menu taking up minimal space on the page while remaining accessible.

However the Burger Menu is only one of many methods whereby seemingly small design choices greatly enhance the mobile experience. There are many other factors, and a well-planned responsive layout allows a site to maximise the impact regardless of the screen format and size. Other considerations include the speed of access and likely system resources, method of control and more. Hence why you often see content ‘missing’ on mobile sites when you compare them to the desktop version. It isn’t missing so much as the decision has been taken to tailor the site in this way for mobile to maximise the user experience. Often this is in order to speed up load times and to focus the attention on the most important information, products or functions of the site. Nobody want to spend ten minutes scrolling around a page on their mobile to find the relevant content and if they cannot swiftly find what they are looking for may simply leave and look elsewhere. Although not a change visible to the end user, smaller images will also be selected upon using a mobile view so as to load faster and take up less system resources.

The placement of content needs to be considered according to ‘The Thumb Zone’. Research has shown that people mostly use one of three hand positions to operate their mobile phone, and each of these has different patterns for the ease of tapping on various areas of the screen. Whether you use one hand or two to hold and operate your smartphone, and whether you use your thumb or index finger to control the screen know that the layout chosen is no coincidence, but the product of much thought to ensure you have the best user experience possible.

Remember: The greater the user experience is the more likely a visitor is to return – and this applies to websites as well as face-to-face customer service!

Post by Graham