Foreword to The Mobile Frontier

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  • S

    o
    here’s a little fact that feels surprising: Today on our small blue planet,
    more people have access to cell phones than to working plumbing. Think about
    that. Primitive plumbing has been around for over a thousand years. Modern
    working plumbing has been around for at least 200 years longer than the fleeting
    few years since 1984 when Motorola first ripped the phone off the wall and
    allowed us to carry it around. Most people find plumbing useful. Apparently
    many millions more find cellular phones indispensible. 

    Whenever
    a big part of modern life–the Internet, video games, search engines,
    smartphones, iPads, social networking systems, digital wallet payment systems–are
    so useful that we can no longer imagine life without them, we act as if they
    will forever be the way they are now. This childlike instinct has its charms,
    but it is always wrong and particularly dangerous for designers. People who
    think deeply about the built world necessarily must view it as fungible, not
    fixed. It is the job of thoughtful designers to notice the petty annoyances
    that accumulate when we use even devices we love; to stand in the future and think
    of ways to make it more elegantly functional, less intrusive, more natural, far
    more compelling. In the best such cases, designers need to surprise us–by
    radically altering what we think is possible. To create the futures we cannot
    even yet imagine.

    But the
    future is a scary place replete with endless options, endless unknowns. Of
    course, like everyone else, designers don’t have a crystal ball. There is a
    constant risk that we will make assumptions which turn out to be either too
    bold or too timid. Designers must rely instead on methods to think through
    which evolutionary and revolutionary shifts are most likely–among an infinite
    array of possibilities.

    In The Mobile Frontier, Rachel Hinman has
    tackled one of the most vital issues in the future of design: how will our lives change while we are on
    the go?
    She has used her vast prior experience in working to shape the
    future for Nokia, then added disciplined methods to do us four vital favors:

    Reveal
    the structures of current and coming mobile interfaces…

    Just
    as cars have gone through several design eras (remember tailfins?), The Mobile Frontier has clarified four
    waves of successive strategies that make a device successively easier and more
    pleasant to use. Whether you are a
    designer, or simply an enthusiast, this is a revelation. It shows how the
    metaphors and strategies for how to use a device evolve as there is more
    processing power, memory, and display capabilities available to make a device
    better behaved.

    Uncover
    patterns in how we behave when we are mobile…

    When you observe people deeply enough you discover
    something fundamental. While there are an infinite number of things people
    theoretically might do with mobile devices, inevitably the real activities we
    choose to do can be distilled into clear patterns with a few themes and
    variations. The Mobile Frontier has made
    these clear, so that the challenge of thinking about mobility becomes vastly
    more interesting, more tractable and far easier to either improve or reinvent.

    Provide
    strategies for designing better mobile experiences…

    Whenever we want to improve
    or reinvent a category there are some methods that are better than others. The Mobile Frontier helps lay out active
    design and prototyping strategies that make the otherwise daunting task of
    building new interface alternatives likely to succeed instead of fail. This allows designers to proceed with
    courage and confidence, knowing they can reliably imagine, develop and test
    alternative interfaces, in order to get the future to show up ahead of its
    regularly scheduled arrival.

    Speculate
    about what will come next…

    Finally, The
    Mobile Frontier
    bravely peers down a foggy windy road to guess what lies
    around the corner. This is a task always doomed to failure in detail, but
    Rachel does a brilliant job of giving us the broad outlines. This is essential for helping us get past
    the trap of merely filigreeing around the edges of the known, to instead
    imagine the breakthroughs still to come.

    Collectively, these four deep insights advance the
    known boundaries of understanding today’s mobile devices and experiences. Thus
    they help usher in the vastly new ones sure to emerge soon. Here’s why that
    matters: we are only three decades into one of the most important revolutions
    the world has ever seen. In design development terms, that is a mere blink. Just
    as the mobile device world has zipped past plumbing like a rocket sled would
    pass a slug, we simply must see ourselves at the very beginning of this
    revolution. With mobile devices, we are today where autocars were when the
    Model T was the hottest thing on wheels. We will see vastly more change than
    most of us can possibly imagine. Through our mobile devices we will find new
    advances in learning, security, community, interaction, understanding,
    commerce, communication and exploration.

    Rachel Hinman is helping us make all that come along
    a little sooner, a lot easier, and far more reliably. See for yourself. Better
    yet, join in. Get a move on. Oh, and
    bring your devices. Let’s make ’em more amazing. 


    Larry Keeley

    President and Co-Founder

    Doblin Inc. 



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