Responsive web design: mobile users and desktop users wanting different things

Jeff Croft explains some differences in use between mobile users and desktop users (On ‘Responsive Web Design’ and the mobile context, 2010):

For me, creating a great mobile version of a web product is all about capturing the context the user will be in when they visit.

By and large, mobile users want different things from your product than desktop users do. If you’re a restaurant, desktop users may want photos of your place, a complete menu, and some information about your history. But mobile users probably just want your address and operating hours. If you’re a blockbuster movie, desktop users probably want an immersive experience, including trailers and production details. On mobile, they probably just want to know where the nearest theater is and what time it’s showing. If you’re a calendaring application, desktop users probably want a full-featured suite of tools for adding and editing events. Mobile users are probably more focused on simply seeing what they’ve got going on today. If you’re a major retail site, desktop users may be more interested in browsing and shopping, whereas mobile users may be more interested in checking the status of an existing order.

Responsive web design: more regarding the web bearing relicts of print philosophy. Or, the web as a palimpsest of media past.

As I did yesterday, I quote extensively from John Allsopp’s A Dao of Web Design, (2000).

If you’ve never watched early television programs, it’s instructive viewing. Television was at that time often referred to as “radio with pictures”, and that’s a pretty accurate description. Much of television followed the format of popular radio at that time. Indeed programs like the Tonight Show, with its variants found on virtually every channel in the world (featuring a band, the talk to the camera host, and seated guests), or the news, with the suited sober news reader, remain as traces of the medium television grew out of. A palimpsest of media past [emphasis not in original].

Think too of the first music videos (a few of us might be at least that old). Essentially the band miming themselves playing a song. Riveting.

When a new medium borrows from an existing one, some of what it borrows makes sense, but much of the borrowing is thoughtless, “ritual”, and often constrains the new medium. Over time, the new medium develops its own conventions, throwing off existing conventions that don’t make sense.

If you ever get the chance to watch early television drama you’ll find a strong example of this. Because radio required a voice – over to describe what listeners couldn’t see, early television drama often featured a voice over, describing what viewers could. It’s a simple but striking example of what happens when a new medium develops out of an existing one.

The web is a new medium, although it has emerged from the medium of printing, whose skills, design language and conventions strongly influence it. Yet it is often too shaped by that from which it sprang. “Killer Web Sites” are usually those which tame the wildness of the web, constraining pages as if they were made of paper – Desktop Publishing for the Web. This conservatism is natural, “closely held beliefs are not easily released”, but it is time to move on, to embrace the web as its own medium. It’s time to throw out the rituals of the printed page, and to engage the medium of the web and its own nature.

This is not for a moment to say we should abandon the wisdom of hundreds of years of printing and thousands of years of writing. But we need to understand which of these lessons are appropriate for the web, and which mere rituals.

Responsive web design: pixel perfection versus adaptability & accessibility is adaptability

In print the designer is king or queen. The user should be dominant in the web, however, John Allsopp implies in A Dao of Web Design. This is concordant with the tension between pixel perfection versus adaptability noted in Steven Champeon and Nick Finck’s Inclusive Web Design for the Future.

I return to quote Allsopp again, this time extensively (also from A Dao of Web Design ):

Perhaps the inability to “control” a page is a limitation, a bug of the web. When we come from the WYSIWYG [What You See Is What You Get] world, our initial instinct is to think so. I admit that it was my first response, and a belief that was a long time in going. But I no longer feel that it is a limitation, I see it as a strength of a new medium.

Let’s look at this through the other end of the microscope. The fact we can control a paper page is really a limitation of that medium. You can think – we can fix the size of text – or you can think – the size of text is unalterable. You can think – the dimensions of a page can be controlled – or – the dimensions of a page can’t be altered. These are simply facts of the medium.

And Allsopp’s remark elsewhere in the same article that accessibility is adaptability (and we should not be limited to thinking that people with conventional disabilities are the only ones with access problems) crystallizes as he continues from above:

And they aren’t necessarily good facts, especially for the reader. If the reader’s eye sight isn’t that of a well sighted person, chances are the choice the designer made is too small to comfortably read without some kind of magnification. If the reader is in a confined space, a train to work, an airplane, the broadsheet newspaper is too large. And there is little the reader can do about this.

The control which designers know in the print medium, and often desire in the web medium, is simply a function of the limitation of the printed page. We should embrace the fact that the web doesn’t have the same constraints, and design for this flexibility. But first, we must “accept the ebb and flow of things”.

Molokini Crater of Maui, Hawai’i

Molokini Crater of Maui, Hawai'i

Molokini is a crescent-shaped, partially submerged volcanic crater which forms a small islet located in Alalakeiki Channel between the islands of Maui and Kahoʻolawe, part of Maui County in Hawaiʻi. It has a diameter of about 0.4 miles (0.6 km) and maximum elevation of 161 feet (49 m). The islet is a Hawai’i State Seabird Sanctuary and a popular tourist destination for scuba diving, snuba and snorkeling.