Lately I have been thinking a lot about an image that I saw at An Event Apart in Seattle. It came at the very end of Jeremy’s talk and he was standing on the stage in front of the screen and the slide he was showing just kept adding in more images of his website on several different devices, such as the iPad, the iPhone, the Kindle, a large monitor, and even a very old version of IE. As he was showing this, he said, “this is all my web site.” (Sidenote: I searched Flickr high and low for a picture of Jeremy in front of this slide, but to no avail.) This keeps coming back to me as I am inundated through my twitter feed and my reader feed with more and more articles about responsive web design, mobile, context, etc.
This ties in with what I’ve been working on at work, we are finally venturing into a mobile experience. I have been having fun actually coding up the first designs for this venture. It’s fun, I like it, but I can’t help but wonder if we are making a lot of assumptions about what our users actually want out of mobile. If I hear one more time that the mobile user has just got one eye and one thumb and aren’t paying full attention to the device, I may scream. I don’t think that is always true, not in what I see on a daily basis, not in how I am using my devices, and not in what I am reading around the web. Jeremy wrote about this very thing, and ironically enough, I read it laying on my couch at home, on a fast connection, with my mobile device (in this case my iPhone). So I guess people aren’t always rushed, they aren’t always on a slow connection, and maybe they are totally focused. In fact, maybe what we may lump into the mobile device category is their only way of accessing the web? And then just today, Luke tweeted about it (which you’ll see by the link that many others agreed). Why is context what people seem to be fixated on? Also, why do we continually believe that the mobile user only wants some of the content?
So what does this have to do with the image I described at the beginning? All of those images of Jeremy’s web site, including the one on a very old version of IE, they are all his site. They are all on the same web and no matter how the user chooses to access the content, they get it all in a way that is easy for them to read. This is what is most important to me, the user gets it all and is not punished by only getting the surface level content because they chose to access the site with a mobile device. So the work being done on responsive design, serving the right thing to mobile and moving up from there (Andy’s 320 and up project is an example) is intriguing to me. It isn’t perfect as optimization is tricky, but I think it may just be worth the difficulty it takes to build it. Increasingly I believe it depends, but stop assuming how, when, and why a user is hitting your site with a mobile device, and start the project with asking them. Because I firmly believe that it will be surprising every time what they answer.
On a side note, I cannot wait for the Boston Globe redesign to go live that this guy worked on. Jeremy alluded to it when I met him in March and said it will be a game changer, like when ESPN redesigned with a CSS layout, and I agree that it just might. These are exciting times and I just hope we serve the user well by not assuming things at the beginning of our projects.