Contextual design

There is a good article that I picked up on over the weekend from November on Forbes looking at the intersection of responsive web design and mobile device apps. The responsive design movement is one which is founded on, in my view, a quite technical foundation: websites should be built in such a way that they elegantly present themselves based on the screen on which they are being viewed.

The Forbes article from Carin van Vuuren (who isn’t a disinterested contributor, as Usablenet’s Chief Marketing Officer) talks about how responsive design works in some cases (particularly for content-rich web experiences), but not so well if they are more transactional. For me, the key to all of this is context, and I have argued since the very first days of mobile content that even text content doesn’t necessarily just need to be presented differently for a smaller screen – it might need to be completely re-written to be truly valuable.

For example: at the weekend I was with my family in the car, about to travel home from a friend’s house, when my wife asked if there was a branch of M&S nearby where we could buy a duvet. M&S have a reasonably well-designed mobile site from a pure HTML perspective, but after five minutes of trying to find out what local stores there were, let alone what ranges they stocked, we gave up and just headed home. Whilst it was perfectly simple to have bought a duvet, to have found where to buy one there and then was really tricky. But if I am using a smartphone in the context of my car*, buying there and then is probably going to be a more common (to use the IT jargon) use case than ordering for delivery?

All of this was just about finding and presenting content. The fixed formats that I had on offer didn’t really help.

Of course the permutations are endless. Which is where so much of the opportunity exists for marketers and developers going forward. Mobility won’t just mean being able to be used on a small wireless device: it will mean providing information and function that is relevant to where we are and what we are likely to be doing.

* I wasn’t driving. But my wife was getting increasingly frustrated at the time we were spending still parked in front of our friend’s house…

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