B-2-B and the
Five years ago the aspiration of business people was to carry around a smart case with a laptop; now it's the smartphone that is the must-have tool for personal effectiveness.
And, at the start of 2014, with the prospect of wafer thin iPhones and bendable Android devices, the penetration of smartphones, according to The Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB), looks certain to hit 75% of the population. Among consumers this has led to a near compulsion to use the mobile device 24/7. There is no longer such a time as ‘downtime’; not only are people dual screening - using their mobile alongside watching TV or using their desktop or laptop - but also 52% of all adults with a smartphone (source: Mobile Posse/ Phoenix Marketing International) say they would prefer to use their smartphone rather than sit and think when they are doing nothing and have time to kill. With wearable, connected devices as the next technology wave coming along, it's likely that this behaviour among consumers will continue to grow.
There is a spin off into the B-2-B sector where business people have become more demanding of the way information providers deliver information to their mobile device. Not only are the days of making do with a BlackBerry long past, but also struggling to ‘pinch’ around a desktop site or suffer the frustration of incomplete content on a mobile-specific site is no longer acceptable for users. These are people who are pulling out their phones in excess of 100 times a day (according to Mary Meeker of KPCB).
So, how to deliver the best user experience to business people who are increasingly using mobile devices for regular work based Internet access?
The approach taken for B-2-B web design over the last two years, certainly for corporate sites, has been Responsive Design. That has involved taking the desktop site as a starting point, determining the devices and browsers that the target audience is most likely to be using and then using the three principles of RD - fluid grids, flexible media, and media queries - to shoe-horn the site into some shape that is a best fit.
The challenge is that although responsive design is a very acceptable technical solution, it makes assumptions about the site visitor - their needs and expectations - that are not always reasonable. Site owners need to know and understand what their site visitors want in terms of content and interaction at any one time. Simply recognising a device as desktop, tablet or mobile and then configuring the site to the device doesn't take account of users who one moment will be using a PC at their desk and then from virtually the same location five minutes later may use a tablet from a nearby meeting room or a smartphone from the coffee shop across the way. It's critical to think always of what the user needs and expects at any stage in their interaction with an organisation.
So, for example a business person may use a desktop computer to access the customer portal to check on an order or the status of their account. They may then use a tablet to read up on detailed product information and application stories and then share those with colleagues. And then they may use a mobile to check on a meeting in their calendar and send an agenda ahead of time. Or they may do all of those on the one tablet or smart phone… Or a different combination of all three. And that's not to ignore that fact they may continually interact with the company and key staff through social media and subscription-based alerts.
When thinking of the best user experience across all platforms, the starting point has to be a full understanding of not only different audiences and their information needs, but also the likely use they will make of devices and the types of interactions they will want to have through those devices. And that profiling of audience persona needs has to be comprehensive and whenever possible backed up by detailed analytics. That information is then translated into a set of information hierarchies that enable the content and functionality to be designed as adaptive and therefore optimal across all devices. That's not the same as thinking ‘Mobile first’ or considering ‘Graceful degradation’. It's about truly adaptive design that uses a combination of clear, user-oriented information architecture thinking, the most flexible visual design and the most effective build techniques. Two good examples are Genel Energy and Glenigan - take a look whilst you're on the move.