Mobile

Mobile is the future. And, myself being hugely resistant to all the marketing buzz that comes and goes every few years, when I see people gazing at their smartphone screens on trains and buses, in cafés and restaurants, while no further than just 3 years back they were all holding their books and newspapers or just staring through the windows, I can feel the change is in the air. One special occasion to get that feeling was the Mobile Trends Conference that was held in January of 2014 in Krakow, and now, after a few weeks, when the dust settled, I want to share some of my thoughts and impressions.

First of all, I must admit it was a really well-organized and professionally run event in the very heart of Krakow. Being there, I could finally feel that Mobile is not just another division of an IT company, not just another front-end  for the apps we know from the Web or desktops. 

The organizers divided the conference into the business day and the development day, which was not all that clear to me, unless you assume that UX design is pure business. But let’s get to the guts…

Business Day

Drawing audience attention in the first, morning hours of a conference, is not an easy feat — you have to compete with the steady stream of people arriving at the registration desk, yummy breakfast on the tables and all the early listeners’ focus deficit. But Monika Mikowska’s „Solving problems while designing mobile interfaces” presentation has certainly made it. It’s always worth repeating that a designer’s job is a constant battle between an artist and a crafts-person inside. And, sadly as it may sound, in the end, the crafts-person should win. Usability first!

After the lunch Artur Kurasiński presented Launch — a prototyping tool that is simple, easy to use, and allows collaboration between people engaged in the process. And though the app didn’t make it to Google Play by the time of the presentation, I’m sure Artur bought us all with his great, professional and witty talk. You could sum it up as „just another prototyping utility”, but give Artur the benefit of the doubt and try out their new tool (http://getlaunch.com/).

While Kurasinski’s show was the entertainment of the day, Steven Hoober’s presentation was surely one of the highlights of the Conference when it comes to opening your eyes to seemingly obvious truths of UX design. So, the first thing to keep in mind while designing a new app is that it should begin with not designing anything at all — either in Photoshop or on paper — but with essentially resisting that urge and asking a few simple questions instead:

  • what is your audience?
  • what are the goals?
  • what are they using now to solve this need?
  • why is your organization doing this?

You have to extract the information you need from peoples’ heads, which is not that easy, then group ideas, prioritize them… And it’s all about team work and collaboration. In the end, you may get to a point where you find out you don’t need a mobile app, or any app, or not even a website. And passing that knowledge to the client may be more important than passing a digital, working piece of work. We’re here to find solutions to peoples’ problems, aren’t we? Be sure to see Steven’s presentation at http://www.slideshare.net/shoobe01/getting-good-ux-into-mobile.

Development Day

As we know, technology advances at a tremendous speed today, and mobile technology moves even faster (we all want those new gadgets now, don’t we?), so being up-to-date with all the new stuff popping up here and there is crucial. It happens that by the time a mobile project gets finished, some of its aspects decided upon in the beginning look already out of place. This is why it’s always worth listening to what others in the industry have to say, especially when that knowledge is given first-hand.

The Development Day was all about that: 64-bit mobile CPU’s, Bluetooth Low Energy, NFC, new ways of using available sensors, but also frameworks that speed up our work or (promise to) deliver everything in one package. Well, to be frank, to me what’s more important is all the human-related reasons for the changes we’re seeing and the core ideas behind technologies, which are more about psychology than numbers, scripts and formulas. Everyone in IT knows what RWD stands for, we’re all confident that 90% of today’s websites need to be redesigned to fit all the different screens and devices, but what is the real message here?

Jonathan Smiley was the one to tell us that. It’s about giving up control. It’s about the content first. Start with thinking what you want to tell the universe, then layer it in everything else. So „responsive” is not grids and scaling, but it’s restructuring the way we used to think about presenting information. See for yourself — you can get Jonathan’s slides here.

By the way, many of us here in Europe tend to look down on Americans and their oversimplification of things, but we love their speeches! We’re amazed at their clarity, attention building, sticking to the point. TED was born in America. Jonathan Smiley is a great example of how you can present ideas so that people listen  to you as if they were watching a thriller movie. Great job, Jonathan! And a message to the MTC organizers — we want more like this!

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