Is mobile really that important?

By Nick Dubé, 12 April 2015

In light of Google’s mobile usability crack down  kicking in on April 21st, I thought I’d share a few thoughts on the impact mobile has had on my little corner of the digital marketing space.

Last week I was riding in one of Melbourne’s iconic trams (love the new free tram zone btw…), when I had a bit of an epiphany.   Looking around the carriage there were people from all walks of life with one thing in common…  they were all staring intently at their smartphones.  

As for me, I spend most of my time making the internet, so I was quite happy looking out the window at the pretty autumn leaves (apart from a quick check of my emails of course ;-).  This gave me the opportunity to ponder that it’s not just our analytics telling us that demographics are shifting.  Just step out into the big wide world to see that almost everyone’s on mobile… constantly.

Rather than heading off on a tangent about how we’ve all stopped enjoying autumn leaves, I thought I’d share a few insights on the impact mobile is having.
 

An iconic Melbourne tram on an autumn day

Mobile is no longer an optional extra

A few years ago there was a flurry of excitement around ‘Responsive web design’, a buzz word describing mobile friendly websites that adapt to your device.  It may sound like a simple change, but as a control-freak designer used to having nice fixed layouts, this turned my world upside down.

Initially, we offered ‘responsive’ to our clients as an option, but it soon became apparent that there has been a fundamental shift in online content delivery.  Our job as designers has changed from being about how it looks, to how it works - how a layout can adapt or ‘fold’ for optimal viewing on any device.

Google favours mobile friendly

A few months back Google started reminding us that some of the websites we’d developed weren't mobile friendly (Is yours? Check with Google’s handy tool).  We thought it was nice of Google to provide this useful feedback, but then we heard the news. From April 21st 2015, websites that aren’t mobile friendly will appear lower in searches performed on mobile devices - ouch!

The good news is that Google will constantly monitor the mobile friendly status of sites, so if you fix your site, your ranking will return quickly.

Design matters, more than ever

Recent studies have shown some fascinating stats around the increasing importance of design thinking, not just for your website, but for your entire organisation.

...over the last 10 years design-led companies have maintained significant stock market advantage, outperforming the S&P by an extraordinary 228%.
(Design Management Institute - The Value of Design Report)

My feeling is that design becomes more important as people have less time, and more options.  That’s why they’re looking at your website while they’re on the tram! Your customer experience needs to be easy and to achieve this on the small screen, you need sharp focus.  Ultimately good design can be invisible, simply leading to a happy and loyal customer base.

The future ain’t stopping for nobody

Last year I headed to Chicago for An Event Apart.  One speaker that blew my mind was Luke Wroblewski, I’d read his book Mobile First, but this talk was about the future.  Having just brought my team up to speed with the new(ish) found land of responsive web design, I now realised that the learning won’t stop.

We thought smartphone screens were small, but how will the web look on Google Glass or the Apple Watch?  I love my trusty 27” display, but how usable are my web designs on a 70” TV?   These questions challenge us to make our user experience truly device independent, but it doesn’t stop there…

...the internet will disappear
(Eric Schmidt,  Google Chairman, when asked about the future of the internet)

The next phase of web standards will not only detect screen size and adjust design accordingly, but also respond to other environmental factors like the proximity of the user and the lighting ambience in a room.  For example, if you were viewing a website on your 70” TV one evening, you might be reclining on your couch in low-light, 5 metres back from the screen.  For optimal user experience, this situation requires a different design approach to say, working from your desk next to a window on a sunny autumn day.

Moral of the story

These are exciting changes, and alongside our team at Heartburst I enjoy tackling them head on. However, with goal posts constantly on the move, putting the screen in my pocket to watch a few yellow leaves fall is a welcome breather... once in a while.
 



Nick Dubé

Nick Dubé is creative director & founder at Heartburst Digital and has been designing websites since the early days of the internet.  He loves creating awesome digital solutions with the Heartburst team and resides with his young family in Melbourne, Australia.


This article was also published on LinkedIn.



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