Mobile and tablet specific guidelines- Part 1 Why we need them

By Elaine McVicar

Recent fast paced growth of the smartphone and tablet market has shown that our usage of mobile devices has grown exponentially, and along with that, so has our level of interaction and depth of engagement.

It’s even expected that mobile usage will overtake desktop by 2015. The complexity and availability of device-specific features such as cameras and location services have multiplied too; we can do so much more on our mobile devices that we couldn’t in the past.

So, it’s now even more important that businesses know how to make the best use of mobile and tablet devices, and clearly understand their advantages, and limitations, allowing them to effectively engage with their customers. And, if they don’t get this right it can negatively impact their reputation. Our research on mobile has some useful insights on this: Going Mobile.

We’re now regularly being asked if guidelines specific to mobile and tablet use are important. We believe they are, and here is why you should too.

All about the context

It’s not easy eating certain food while you’re on the move – try eating spaghetti or a steak while you’re speed walking to catch your train. It could get very frustrating. But change the format and it can be much simpler – have a steak sandwich or a bag of crisps instead! What I’m trying to say is that the context of use for mobile and tablet is very different than desktop. The layout, styles and interactions all need to be considered differently to suit the context.

We have different behaviours on mobile devices. Users are doing different things in different ways, and can be thinking about very different things. Mobile devices tend to be used on the move too, or even while multi-tasking. And we’re often researching and interacting with content in a more casual way. We’ll browse just to pass the time on the bus, or in front of the TV, or even following a recipe while cooking. This means that simplicity, ease of use and legibility become even more essential on these smaller screens.

The device is an extension of the person

The way we engage with tools and content on our mobiles is much more personal too. They’re carried with us all the time, and integrate into our personal, family and business lives. They’ve become an extension of our personalities. Our home screens are where we keep all the brands and tools that we use regularly. This means they are with us, and in front of us every day.

Not just one, but many

A digital offering can cross many platforms. Native and hybrid apps are installed directly on to a user’s device, while web apps, mobile websites and responsive websites are all accessed through a user’s browser, not to forget services through a TV or games console. There isn’t one simple solution any more. All a company’s services all need to work in tandem to provide a consistent high quality user experience. Mobile and tablet specific guidelines can give you a way to understand how you can achieve this on all these multiple devices.

It’s not just how it looks, it’s how you do it too

Many standard digital guidelines have historically focused on visual style guidelines as opposed to any clear guidance on interactions, which means they don’t contain the right information to create consistent and appealing user experiences for mobile and tablet devices. The touch screen on many smartphones and tablets means there are much more sophisticated interactions to consider. It’s important to provide guidelines on these gestural interactions as well as how the brand and style needs to be modified to suit a smaller screen.

Don’t get left behind

How well you portray your business and services online will impact on how your brand is presented and consumed. This means it’s essential to create a consistent and enjoyable experience for your customers, no matter where they are, what they are doing or what device they using. And if you don’t start controlling your mobile and tablet presence now, you may find you lose control of how your customers see your business.

Mobile and tablet guidance can help you solve many issues around how to design and create these consistent user experiences. I’ll expand more on what should be in these guidelines in Part 2 – Design considerations, coming soon…

What do you think?