Mobile Web Design Trends: Q&A with Theresa Neil

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.

This week's interviewee is design expert Theresa Neil. She's the author of Mobile Design Pattern Gallery and co-wrote Designing Web Interfaces. Neil is passionate about designing for our connected world.

What mobile trends are working well?

Personalization during registration is a trend that can make mobile experiences more enjoyable. Apps like Beats Music and Flipboard capture a few preferences upfront to create a personalized, stickier user experience. Test your designs to determine your users' threshold for sharing information. What's the breaking point? Two questions might be good, whereas three could cause frustration.

What mobile trends do you wish would just go away?

I'm tired of front-loaded product tours and transparency screens in mobile apps. These are ineffective patterns for teaching users how to use the app. Try a guided experience or contextual tips instead. Read more in the article "Rethinking Mobile Tutorials: Which Patterns Really Work?", which I co-authored.

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

I wish there was a clear-cut answer, but it depends on so many factors. The best bet is to start by considering a responsive solution. A responsive site has two huge benefits. The first is reach. Clients can reach all of their customers, regardless of their device size or type. The second is cost. A single code base is cheaper and easier to build and maintain than multiple sites and apps.

Then consider client needs. Your user research will help with this. In the case of B2B tools, productivity apps or enterprise software, a responsive site may need to be supported with an installed app. Take, for example, a medical application that requires processor intensive calculations and data visualizations. An installed app can provide superior performance to a browser-based solution in this scenario.

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

Earlier this year I was a judge for the Design for Experience Awards and selected the Transport for London responsive website as the winner in the Mobile Solution category. The design team's process and the resulting site are worth reviewing.

Some of my favorite app designs for Android are Noom and Both have effective guided experiences and use animations and transitions judiciously to enhance the overall user experience. Dark Sky and Personal Capital on iOS are doing great things with data visualization on small screens, and Basis and IFTTT are paving the way with connecting devices, people and their homes.

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

I recommend Luke Wroblewski's book Mobile First, Rachel Hinman's The Mobile Frontier, Erika Hall's Just Enough Research and the new edition of my book Mobile Design Pattern Gallery. I'd also suggest playing with some of the new prototyping tools like UXPin and analysis tools like Lookback. Don't even open Photoshop until you've prototyped and tested your low-fidelity concepts with your users.

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