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Frequently Asked Questions

These common questions about mobile design and their short answers are taken from Rachel Hinman’s book The Mobile Frontier. You can find longer answers to each in your copy of the book, either printed or digital version.

  1. Why is mobile UX such a hot topic right now?
    For what felt like the longest time, mobile UX was considered a small and obscure design space that most designers felt obliged to learn more about but loathed participating in because of all the inherent design constraints. The release of the first iPhone in 2007 changed all that. The iPhone demonstrated to the mobile industry and the world what was possible when innovative mobile technology was paired with a stellar user experience. The iPhone was more than an innovative product; it was the first mobile device that got people—regular, everyday people (not just the geeks)—excited about using a mobile phone. Now, as increasingly more people are experiencing what it’s like to access and interact with information from nearly anywhere, through devices that are beautifully designed, mobile is no longer a niche topic. There’s never been a better time to design mobile experiences.
    See Chapter 1 for more.
  2. What makes mobile user experience and design different?
    Practitioners of mobile UX design often cite context as the biggest difference between designing for mobile experiences and other design spaces.Developing an understanding and empathy for the depth, breadth, and design implications of the mobile context is quite possibly the most essential skill necessary in creating great mobile experiences. If you’re a practicing designer, chances are that context is your design blindside. Most designers have been steeped in a tradition of creating experiences with few context considerations, although they may not realize it. Books, Web sites, software programs, and even menus for interactive televisions share an implicit and often overlooked commonality: use occurs in relatively static and predictable environments. In contrast, most mobile experiences are situated in highly dynamic and unpredictable environments.
    See Chapter 3 for more information on designing for the mobile context.
  3. What modifications to my existing design processes do I need to make to create good mobile experiences?
    Mobile UX professionals use many of the same tools and processes as other UX professionals. Designers new to mobile UX must learn to calibrate their design decision-making skills to a new medium—and prototyping is essential in developing those decision-making skills. Although prototyping is considered a luxury for many PC-based experiences, it is an absolutely essential part of creating compelling tablet and mobile experiences. The reason is simple. Chances are, if you are new to mobile, your design experience and instincts aren’t very well tuned to mobile. Unlike the PC, the mobile design space is relatively new, and design patterns have yet to be formally codified. In lieu of experience and heuristics, the best way to develop these skills is to practice turning the brilliant ideas in your head into tangible experiences you and other people can engage with. Prototyping can become your saving grace in this regard.
    See Chapter 6 for tons of info on prototyping methods.
  4. How do I design for touchscreen experiences?
    One of the issues that makes designing for touchscreen experiences challenging for designers is that most of us have been steeped in a tradition of creating experiences using GUI (graphical user interface) principles. With the widespread uptake of mobile phones and tablets outfitted with touchscreens, we’re currently in the midst of a UI paradigm shift. Designers and UX professionals must now learn to create experiences that leverage NUI (natural user interface) principles. This includes learning the key differences between GUI and NUI, as well as understanding how to optimize experiences for touch.
    Chapter 2 will help you understand what makes NUI interesting and different, and Chapter 8 will give you valuable info on how to optimize screen-based experiences for touch UIs.
  5. Should I design a native mobile app, a mobile Web app, or a mobile Web site?
    Many experts in the mobile industry have deeply held philosophical viewpoints on this question and have been willing to fight verbal cage fights with those whose opinions differ. The short answer is: “It depends.” Chapter 4 covers some of the pros and cons of each approach. A word of caution: While this is an important implementation question to answer, it’s not necessarily the first question you should be asking at the beginning of a mobile user experience project. Ultimately, your goal should be to create a great user experience. Technology and implementation choices can help guide your design and decision-making process–but they should not dictate it.
    More on identifying mobile needs in Chapter 3.
  6. What does the future hold? What’s next for mobile user experience?
    In the near future, many designers and UX professionals will focus on pioneering the parts of the mobile frontier that have already been discovered. And that is a good place to be. But there’s a vast space just beyond what’s been discovered that some brave souls have already begun to explore. There are three mobile trends I’ve been tracking that I believe will have a profound impact on the future. These themes will not only redefine mobility, but they’ll also irrevocably alter the relationship we have with computing. They are: the shifting boundary between computers and the human body, the shifting boundary between computers and the environment, and mobile experiences for emerging markets.
    These topics will all be covered in Chapter 9.

back to The Mobile Frontier