Locative Lab

researching locative media

Don’t design for “mobile” – design for mobility


A couple weeks ago Adaptive Path’s Peter Merholz posted a thought provoking piece on mobile design entitled Don’t design for “mobile” – design for mobility.

Merholz articulates and frames current mobile design fixated on form-factor and ‘miniaturising’ the web for smaller screens and keypad interaction. Notably, he argues that the essence of great mobile application design is understanding that a phone is always with you – not that its simply a smaller device.

So what does that mean? At a fixed device, such as a desktop PC, our context is less fluid and hence our interaction can be richer and more verbose. When in motion – whether travelling, driving, shoppin, or at an event – our context is much more fluid and hence devices or applications that can sense or predict our context or motive will be more successful by providing focussed content and data.

As Merholz puts it…

‘there’s an inverse relationship between the dynamism of your environment, and the complexity of use you’re willing to put up with’.

I’ve found myself quoting ‘mobility, not mobile’ many times in the last few days – I’d love to see Merholz expand this thinking into a number of reference examples, best practices and design patterns that can be used by others. For example, Twitter’s hugely usable SMS interface would be a great pattern.

More broadly than the sentiment of ‘mobility, not mobile’ – designing user experience should always be driven by context, not form-factor.


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Cityscape LocativeLab.org is Ronald Lenz's research website on locative & mobile media. This is mostly an archive of blogposts I find inspiring and interesting and an overview of my work. I'm a strategist, technologist and researcher in the field of Location-Based Mobile Services and work at Waag Society, a medialab in Amsterdam, The Netherlands where I head the Locative Media research program and at 7scenes, a platform for GPS games and tours as creative director. Picture 4 Find me at Twitter, LinkedIn or via ronald [at] waag [dot] org.

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