UX Magazine

Defining and Informing the Complex Field of User Experience (UX)
Article No. 672 May 16, 2011

Finding Your Mobile Niche

The mobile land rush is in full swing. Applications are being downloaded at a mind-bending speed, mobile media click-through rates are outstanding, and everyone in the space is working to create unique experiences that will drive everyday use.

But while mobile is rightly being treated as a core area of consumer engagement, too often it is being designed for as a smaller version of the desktop experience. This misses an opportunity to add real value to customers’ lives by being relevant in a mobile moment. As a guide for designers taking the mobile plunge, we have identified four ways existing brands have created powerful mobile experiences.

1. Segment and Reduce Functionality

Part of the evolution of the desktop web has been the tendency for desktop experiences to be encyclopedic, providing access to everything for everyone within an organization’s customer base. Even targeted experiences retain uniting global elements such as site navigation and footers, which provide access to other facets of a business but muddy the experience for each user segment with unneeded elements.

The existence of these encyclopedic experiences on desktop computers is freeing to mobile designers because it allows us to use mobile as an opportunity to refocus on a primary customer segment. We can create experiences that are specific to a moment during the path to purchase without having to worry about accounting for the needs of all customers since the desktop experience has that covered. This has lead to one of the main appeals of mobile experiences over their desktop counterparts, namely, their tendency towards a single focus.

A good illustration of this is the Zipcar app. Rather than recreate their entire website, Zipcar focused their mobile application on two simple acts: reserving and driving a car. There are no functions for prospective customers. No rate and plan information. No explanation of how Zipcar works or discussion of its university offering. The decision to create a dedicated tool for one segment (loyal customers using a car) instead of an encyclopedic mobile version of the website is what makes the experience so beautifully simple.

The idea of segmenting and reducing functionality is deceptively simple but crucial to the success of a mobile experience. As customers shift their attention to their phones, there will be a temptation to complicate and consolidate with the same kinds of everything for everyone designs that customers are so happily leaving behind on the desktop.

2. Expand Your Product’s Use Context

For brands that struggled for relevance on the desktop web (e.g., consumer packaged goods), the mobile web might seem to pose many of the same issues around how to create experiences that consumers truly want to engage with. But the rise of mobile computing is actually a huge opportunity for these brands to be relevant in a digital context. By understanding and explicitly designing for the moments when a product is most relevant to customers, brands can create enjoyable and successful mobile experiences.

As an example, consider furniture maker Bolia. Their application offers the expected streamlined catalog browsing experience, but really stands out when it helps to answer that age-old question, “How is this going to look in my house?” The app allows users to quickly select and superimpose a piece of furniture into their home using their phone’s camera. In this way, users can virtually try on the product catalog without ever visiting a showroom. By recognizing this moment and designing around it, Bolia has moved their couches one step closer to your living room and firmly implanted themselves into your consideration process.

3. Take Advantage of The Social Nature of Mobile

The first application on every mobile phone was the address book. We think of and use mobile devices as a part of our social lives to a degree that desktop devices never reached. As Facebook’s Bret Taylor eloquently put it, “Mobile devices are inherently social.”

Here are a couple of things to think about when creating mobile social experiences:

  • What community are you tapping into?
  • What cultural levers are you pulling to make your mobile experience more relevant?
  • Are you allowing someone to customize, populate or participate in your content?

Bravo TV is a great example of a company that’s building on the mobile social movement, getting the audience to engage beyond sitting on the couch. They use SMS polls during live shows to get the audience to vote for fan favorites, discuss shows, and enter sweepstakes. Each of these interactions are updated on TV and their website in real time. Andy Cohen, host of Watch What Happens Live, reads question from Twitter during taping as a way for the audience to participate in the interview. They also use Twitter Tracker and Twitter Battle as ways to keep the conversation going in between shows so fans have something to talk about the other six days a week. And you can follow Bravo on Foursquare, unlocking special badges and getting tips from the Housewives and other Bravo celebrities.

As a company, Bravo doesn’t have one app that does all of this for them. What they do have is an incredibly loyal fan base, and they continue to be relevant to their fans by porting their content into already existing mobile social channels.

4. Create an End-to-End Experience for Your Customers

You would never ask people to come to your store to learn about your product and not give them the opportunity to buy. The same goes for the mobile web. Mobile commerce is on the rise, and for smartphone-enabled customers, experiencing, browsing, researching, and purchasing are all part of the expected mobile experience.

The question isn’t whether to enable full commerce functionality by phone, but how. E-commerce involves notoriously complex workflow, data entry, and validation, and the idea of browsing a product catalog from your handset is pretty daunting. The key to adapting the experience is focusing on the uniquely mobile aspects of e-commerce. Today, so many people are reaching for their phones to compare product specs, price check, and provide feedback on goods and services that physical stores are feeling like showrooms for virtual goods. During the holiday season in 2010, 45% of U.S. in-store shoppers used their smartphones for at least one shopping-related activity.

One company building on this trend is Best Buy. Their mobile app rates each product, allows you to read customer reviews, comparison shop and buy. 40% of customers using the app while in store made a purchase within one hour, and often that purchase was made through the phone instead of the checkout counter. That same information can be found on Best Buy’s desktop site but has historically taken one month to affect purchase behavior. This proves that mobile can also be used as an effective in-store channel experience if you know what kind of information your customer is looking for.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)

User Profile

Andrew Carlson is a VP/Creative Director focusing on UX and design for the Digitas Mobile team. Throughout his career, Andrew has focused on interactive design, product and service development, creating experiences meant to maximize customer enjoyment and client benefit while pushing the medium to its limits. Andrew blogs about mobile and digital design at http://tempodesign.tumblr.com/

User Profile

Kim Bartowski is a creative director with 12 years of experience working for entertainment, travel and luxury brands. She arrived at Digitas in 2007 and is currently a group creative director overseeing an integrated team on American Express and heads up all mobile projects for DTAS North America. Kim has won a number of awards for the work she’s done including One Show, Communication Arts, FWA and a feature in Contagious Magazine.

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Comments

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Great article! Some poignant thoughts presented really well...the examples really drive home the thoughts and make them crystal clear. Great demonstration of how each channel really demands unique and relevant thought even though your underlying product is the same. Thanks.

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We tend to want to drag the content we've created in one technical environment to the next technical environment, as though somehow the new technical environment will transform our content automatically. We need to envision our content in a new space, not drag along its old framework. Thanks for the very specific examples for doing this.