Design for Mobile – Putting it Into Practice

Max Wheeler

We’ve looked at some of the broader considerations when designing for mobile, so now let’s address the business of our application. First, we need a plan. Our client has given us some high-level user scenarios, which we will need to examine in more detail to figure out what each means for our application. It’s crucial to decide precisely which features we intend to deliver, and to whom. Only after we’ve figured that out can we ensure the look and feel of our app actually enables the task we’d like it to. So how do we go about that?

Thinking Big

In order to form the perfect feature set, we need to consider all the features our users might want. If we don’t examine everything we might want to include, we’re almost certainly going to miss some ideas that might make or break our app. Never mind if the list is long; it’s better to start with grand possibilities and narrow our scope later. StarTrackr is a celebrity-spotting application, so our comprehensive feature list might include:

  • Find sightings by location
  • Find sightings by celebrity
  • Sort celebrities by genre
  • Search for a particular celebrity
  • Find locations nearby that celebrities have been sighted at by address
  • Find locations nearby that celebrities have been sighted at by GPS
  • Favorite/follow a celebrity
  • Favorite/follow a location
  • Be notified when a particular celebrity is sighted
  • Be notified when a particular location has a celebrity sighting
  • View recent sightings
  • Add a celebrity sighting
  • Add a photograph of a celebrity sighting
  • Add a video of a celebrity sighting

Putting Together a User Profile

As we talked about earlier, users are the most important consideration in the planning of our application. Who are they? What do we know about them? What are they doing? What do they want? What are the most important features to them? Why would they want to use our application? When are they going to use our app? What are they likely and unlikely to have an interest in? Such questions aren’t always easy to answer, but if users are interested in the general concept for StarTrackr, we can probably make a few assumptions about them. We know they:

  • like celebrities
  • have an interest in celebrity gossip
  • are more likely to be female than male
  • are more likely to be younger than older (say, 14 to 25)
  • are probably located near some celebrity hot spots, such as Hollywood or London

In the real world, our client would usually provide us with information on who their current users are and how they use the site. For our purposes, we’ll make an educated guess: our typical user is a young woman who lives in a large city and enjoys celebrity gossip.

Deciding on a Core Feature Set

Start simple. Great mobile applications focus primarily on the tasks their users want to accomplish. In truth, we should be doing this with all our projects—mobile or not—but it’s even more important with mobile web applications. It can be tempting to include more features in our application, thinking it will make it better. This isn’t always so—in fact, it’s hardly ever the case when talking about mobile design.

We have a list of features that we could include, and we have an idea of who our users are and what they’re after. Next, we need to pare down our feature set to the most essential elements. This may seem easy enough, but deciding which features to leave out can be quite a challenge. Think about the minimum viable product: which features are essential for our application to be of any use at all. If we’re brutal about whittling our list of functionality down to the basics, we can focus on three main features:

  • Find sightings by location
  • Find sightings by celebrity
  • Add a celebrity sighting

And, secondary to that:

  • Add a photograph of a celebrity sighting

For a first iteration at least, this gives us everything we need: celebrities are tied to locations, and we have the ability to filter through either of those data types—plus our users can add their own sightings while on the go. It’s useful to look at this information and condense it into a single mission statement for our application; we can then return to it throughout the development to ensure we stay on track. For our app, this might be: “An app that lets people find and add sightings of their favorite celebrities.”