Mobile Web Design Trends: Q&A with Alissa Briggs

Top mobile design experts share their secrets for staying ahead of the curve in this fast-changing industry.

Whether you're just getting started designing for the mobile web or you're trying to help clients understand how they can take advantage of the latest mobile web developments, knowing where to look for information can be challenging. To simplify the task, we asked some accomplished mobile web design experts to share their thoughts on how to succeed and keep pace in this exciting, ever-evolving field.

In our first installment in this series, we spoke with The Mechanism's Dave Fletcher. This week, we caught up with Alissa Briggs, senior user experience manager and principal designer at Intuit. Briggs brings a strategic lens to crafting evocative experiences across platforms and products. She holds advanced degrees in human-computer interaction and computer science from Carnegie Mellon University. 

Alissa Briggs

What's a mobile trend that's working well?

One of the trends that I'm most excited about is the move toward creating experiences that span multiple platforms and devices. The responsive web design mindset is beginning to shift beyond fluid layouts and progressive enhancement, and we are starting to see examples of customizing the overall approach based on platform opportunities and constraints. For example, on the Uber website I can add a credit card through a standard web form, but when I'm on my smartphone I can simply snap a photo of my credit card and the app does the rest. 

What's a mobile trend you wish would just go away?

Reliance on complicated gestures to complete core tasks. As a designer, it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking, "If I come up with something clever and make a tutorial, users will be able to use my app so much faster." But in reality, users don't have the mind space to learn your unique gesture system. Chances are they are flying through your tutorial so quickly that they aren't absorbing anything, and when they come back a week later, they certainly won't remember.

How do you determine whether a client needs an app, mobile-specific site or responsive site to reach their customers via mobile devices?

First and foremost, consider the needs of your client's customers. Who are they? How do they use their mobile devices today? What context are they working in and what considerations and limitations do they have? If the majority of your customers don't have smartphones or need minimal user interface, then perhaps SMS and email are a better investment than a mobile app or site. If the optimal experience requires push notifications or offline access, then an app would be a better fit.

What are your favorite mobile sites that designers can learn from? Why do they stand out to you?

The Seven Digital Deadly Sins project, a collaboration between the National Film Board of Canada and The Guardian, is a great example of responsive design. The design feels familiar across devices while being highly customized to engage users in a device-appropriate way.

Medium is a great example of a mobile site that has taken the user's context into account. I commonly find myself on Medium as a result of clicking through a link in my email or in a social networking site, and it's clear that articles have been optimized for this type of behavior. 

I also love Unroll.Me, a utility that has very little UI but works well with mobile email and browsers. It allows you to create a summary of your email subscriptions and quickly unsubscribe from unwanted emails. The majority of the work happens behind the scenes, but when you find that you've been subscribed to a new email list, it's quick and easy to click on a link in your email and then handle unsubscribing through a mobile-optimized website.

What resources do you recommend for designers who want to get into mobile?

Start by evaluating many existing app and web experiences on mobile devices. Which apps do you like best? What are they doing that makes you like them? How are they taking advantage of device capabilities or working around limitations?

Some other resources I've found useful include the iOS Human Interface Guidelines and Android Design Patterns, which will give you a good starting place and understanding of the basics of designing for iOS and Android. 

Stay tuned. Next Friday, we will post our third installment in this series, an interview with Christopher Butler, COO of Newfangled and author of "The Strategic Web Designer."

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