Blog Post: Breaking Down #Mobile Principles – The Canvas

For those that didn’t read yesterday’s post, Mashable’s Grace Smith’s laid out some core foundations of the current mobile landscape. It inspired me to explore each of them in a way to help you refine your mobile strategy.

Today I would like to delve into the mobile canvas, and what a challenge it can be for designers and product managers alike.

When I need to be reminded how hard designing for the web can be difficult, I go to Yahoo’s home page. Go ahead, check it out. Doesn’t matter the browser or device you use, it’s a mess. At the height of it’s power, the desktop Internet became a gigantic bloated heap of graphical data thrown at you. Something was needed to disrupt designers who were drunk with power.

I kid, of course. The biggest challenge I have today is trying to balance all the customer requests on my pages and keep things as clean as possible. Designers used to think, “What’s one more button, I have all this real estate to use!”

Then came the mobile interface.

Now, with only a few hundred pixels of space, the decision of what features actually matter need to be made. Instead of “just one more feature”, each iteration must be dedicated to ensuring a seamless experience for the user. That was never a consideration a decade ago.

So how do you decide what is important?

Thus began the dance between multivariate testing and design. Regardless of the interface, decisions can’t be made solely based on either data or educated guesses.

A designer I once worked with told me that it is easier to design from the phone up. Meaning, if you can take what matters most and factor the user’s experience based upon that, tablet and desktop are fast follows. Imagine if you took your platform and stripped the unnecessary away and then added as you had space.

Sounds simple right? What if you have to go in reverse?

The task of trimming the fat from your site is as difficult a task as you can find at a product manager. Your users might react negatively with too much change. Even if the experience is poor, there are users who will be used to it. 

When you look at the current UI at LinkedIn, you will not see a redesign that was sprung on users at once. The changes were subtle, with a minimal set of changes to get used to. Before I knew it, the old interface was completely gone but it was replaced by something I was really proud to use.

To accomplish this feat, your road map must be well informed and planned. That doesn’t mean you must execute it flawlessly and without deviation for it to be successful. That’s where the Lean and Agile methodologies come in to play: you fix a little, then you test a little. Act, learn then build upon it.

If it doesn’t work, there’s no harm in reverting or changing course. The goal is to make informed decisions, execute them and then measure it’s efficacy. A masterpiece is painted slowly, even on a canvas 640 pixels wide and 1136 pixels high.


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