Creating well-designed mobile apps
Christian Karasiewicz 270005XS4E Visits (4109)
If I say “well-designed mobile application,” what do you think of? Best practices? User-friendly? One that makes use of the features of the device? One that is designed to run on a wide range of devices with no modification? Or none of the above? Here are some of my ideas on this chimera.
The role of Worklight
First, a comment on the role of IBM Worklight in the creation of mobile applications: Worklight can help you to create both well-designed applications and badly designed applications. Despite all of its developer-friendly features, it cannot tell you whether you are doing a good design job! In fact, it could be argued that Worklight could unintentionally help you do a bad design job. It is so convenient for the developer to use that it becomes a temptation to add a bell here and a whistle there, until the original design intent is buried. Often, the best designed apps are those that address one requirement. Mobile devices themselves push us to over-design; the war of functionality is in full swing, and why would a device have a function if we didn’t use it?
Along comes mobile
In a sense, mobility was born about a decade too soon. We have just, over the last ten years (or less), found IT solutions to a wide range of enterprise and commercial imperatives. There has been just enough time to find solutions that are elegant, efficient and secure; that can detect who you are, where you are and what you want. And now along comes mobile, with all its teething problems to solve, and the widely held conception is that the issues solved in the wider IT field require immediate solutions in the mobile area also. We can do it on the desktop environment; we must be able to do it in the mobile space as well!
Ask the right questions
In fact, the issue of design does not have a single solution. You need to ask several questions before you can give a reasonable answer. For example, and most basically: home app or industry app? Do you need to record up to eight chat shows simultaneously, controlling everything remotely from your smartphone, or do you need to know that there is a critsit (critical situation) at a customer site? For the first it might be important to be able to define your own background image, whereas for the second, large fonts and a loud beep might be all that is required. This is an extreme example, perhaps, but the point is that the criteria for designing an application are not a fixed, immutable list.
Don’t let novelty blind you
The conditions specific to mobile applications are well-documented and I do not intend to discuss them here (less real estate, more reliance on gesture, security issues and so on). The fundamental concerns are the same as for “old” applications: fast response time, intuitive interface, clear display (and a few others). What seems to blind mobile developers is the bright glare of novelty. There is so much that is neat and new that the temptation is ever-present to program to the novelty instead of programming to the stakeholder requirements.
To sum up, and to come back to my initial statement, well-designed mobile comes down to one thing: the application does what it is supposed to do. This does not sound so very different to the nonmobile concept of good design—and why should it? Don’t let that word mobile fool you!