Not so long ago, building a website or application for your business meant designing a single platform that would look great and run smoothly on a single, solitary device: the personal computer. This was before the proliferation of smartphones, tablets and phablets, when the majority of people still had to sit down at their desktop to point-and-click their way across the World Wide Web. When it came to the end-user experience, the only real variation that designers had to anticipate was screen resolution and processing power. Make the text and graphics too small, and you might render your site illegible on those low-res CRT monitors. Get a little too chippy with the Flash animation, and you might crash someone’s computer.
Today, Web designers are left to contend with a much larger degree of variation in terms of how consumers will interact with their websites and applications. Here are just a few of the challenges of designing in a cross-device world.
The Move to Mobile
Today, a majority of people experience the Web on their phone or tablet, according to comScore data reported in Smart Insights. Not only does this require a major shift in design thinking, it’s also fundamentally changed consumer expectations about how the Internet works. Twenty years ago, a website was a blank slate that designer could approach from any number of angles. Because everything was so new, users were willing to put up with a little bit of chaos when navigating a website or familiarizing themselves with a new application. There was an unspoken understanding that we were all learning together, and a little disorganization and design awkwardness was to be expected.
Now, users expect every website and application to look to operate within a fairly tight set of best practices, no matter what device they’re holding in their hands. They expect a vertically oriented platform with a balance of images and text and an emphasis on navigation. A busy, graphically intense website with a hard-to-locate menu is likely going to send your potential customer straight to the back button.
In the mobile economy, it can be hard for developers and designers to engage users who know what they want and who want it now. The good news is that experimentation isn’t completely dead. Computer companies like Lenovo are still working hard to bridge the gap between the power and productivity of a full-featured laptop and the flexibility and portability of a tablet. The hope is that users will ultimately swing back toward a more centered Web experience, one that values both ease of use and creative presentation.
The Economy of Touch
When smartphones and tablets first appeared on the market, designers struggled to square the point-and-click world of desktop computing with the more tactile environment offered by touchscreens. This was perhaps one of the biggest challenges of cross-device design. How do you make something that not only looks great, but can also take advantage of a new level of interactivity?
It became immediately clear that simply porting a desktop Web environment over to mobile device screen was not going to cut it. Designing for these devices would have to become its own art and its own science. Now, when users access a website or application, the experience always feels specially designed for their device. It takes advantage of its singular features and capabilities. The Web is no longer one-size-fits-all, and it’s all the better for it.