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Design for Mobile First

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Mobile is the fastest growing technology in history, currently outselling PCs. The statistics are astounding. Even ignoring the hype cycle of mobile’s growth, reach, and penetration, you can understand the impact of mobile on a very personal level by looking to your own experiences and how mobile devices have changed your own behaviors. When you need to connect with people and information, what is your first instinct - to look to your PC or grab your phone or tablet?

Mobile penetration has changed not only how we consume information, but our preferences in what constitutes good information design. Even if you do not currently deploy training on mobile devices, a “mobile first” philosophy provides superb design principles to positively impact learning outcomes.

Focus, focus, focus

One of the best exercises I have ever done in business is to develop a good elevator pitch. Most people take this activity for granted until they attempt to actually perform the task (which I recommend you do). Boil down your business and its value to something that can be delivered and understood in 60 seconds.

Designing for mobile is much the same. There are two forces behind mobile design that forces focus:


  • limited screen real-estate on many devices will not be able to render complex interfaces or depths of data in any usable manner
  • most mobile application use are for very short periods of time

Both of these factors require intense focus to ensure that a) users can get in, get what they need, and move on and b) the time on any given task is optimized. This is a good design principle in general, not just for mobile.

My favorite quote to sum up the principle comes from Antoine de Saint Exupéry:



A designer knows he has achieved perfection
not when there is nothing left to add,
but when there is nothing left to take away.




Performance vs. Content

With a limited screen size and time window, mobile designers must think about the most salient information and options to present their users. They can’t depend on delivering tomes of detailed text. It has to be focused and summarized without compromising the core objectives. Many eLearning courses deployed today are content focused. They focus more on the subject matter itself rather than skill development for on the job delivery.

Mobile development is primarily about supporting a task to be performed. A mobile banking application provides a good illustration. During their first access, users may drill down to understand the different parts of the application, their purpose and how to utilize the features. On subsequent visits, the user can quickly execute tasks they need to accomplish with efficient interface design and strategic on screen guidance cues.

“How do I get my course to run on mobile devices?” is not the right question. It should be “How do I design a mobile experience to help users perform?” Is your courseware designed around a body of content or focused on a real world application of that knowledge?





Experience vs. Features

Mobile devices enable us to interact with the world in ways that were not possible, or practical before. GPS, cameras, scanners, touch screen and tilt (gyroscope) inputs are new features that present great opportunities, but the user experience is critical to their adoption and utilization. A clear illustration of Experience vs. Features is found in the tablet space. Despite the fact that Android tablet devices often have more features, the Apple user experience (UX) is superior and has solidified its market dominance. A good resource for user experience design from a strategic planning perspective is Clark Quinn’s Designing mLearning.





Focus on Mobile Now

Many organizations are not yet deploying mobile training to their workforce and have considerations such as security and platform support to consider before doing so. However, most employees ARE living a mobile mindset. Functional and forward looking training design demands the right information in the right amounts at the right time with focus on performance.

Mobile design tenants will resonate with users and can be applied to non-mobile deployments as well. By implementing these principles now, you will improve your current training and be better prepared for when, not if, your organization migrates to mobile devices.

A wealth of mobile learning information will be available at the eLearning Guild mLearnCon conference June 19-21. You can also follow the twitter hashtag #mlearncon.



| Categories: eLearning

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