Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Mobile web pages are better than their big brothers

Wallpapering fog had a face-lift recently and I hope the new look's an improvement. As well as making it prettier, I wanted to soften the overall feel and make the post text easier to read. It should look better on a mobile now too (Google Analytics says some of you lot read it on your iPhones) and mobile web page design got me thinking.

Having your capacity to fill a screen with garbage taken away is often helpful. Look at the difference between Facebook and Myspace; on Facebook, users can't turn the page into a customised HTML car crash and that's a very good thing. Although Facebook does seem to be gradually cluttering up with more options and bits of menus moving about - they must have been talking to their new buddies at Microsoft.

In order to work, mobile web and app pages are forced to follow a couple of simple design principles.

- A page fits on a screen (horizontally at least, vertical scrolling is ok.)
- Crucially, a page has one purpose. There isn't room for more.

The unintended consequence of this screen real estate discipline is that publications' websites can be easier to read on a smart phone than they are on a 19" widescreen monitor.

Take The Guardian. It's got a fairly typical online newspaper look, but there's a lot competing for your attention on this homepage.

The stories that I came here for are relegated to the left-hand column, below loads of menus, beside a special feature and jostling for space with links to jobs and online dating.

It's the same picture when you click through to a story. I've still got a list of headlines on the right-hand side even though I've just seen a list of story headlines on the homepage and I picked this one. I doubt that even one in a thousand people use the find your MP form.

And just for fun, let's turn the ad-blocker off too. What did I come to this page for again? I've forgotten. The side-bar ad pushes the MP form and headlines lower down the page, but they're still there.

What I actually came here for is the left hand half of the page. All that other clutter is a distraction.

This is the Guardian Anywhere Android app, (see my Android App essentials)

The front page is a list of categories. You click on a category for a list of stories. Stories are a single picture, above clean, well formatted text.

If you want the menus again, you click the back button. That's it and it's beautifully simple.

On my HTC Desire HD, which has got a fairly large screen, I actually prefer reading The Guardian with the app than reading it on a monitor. I know there are major problems with minimalist design - starting with the fact it's very hard to make any revenue if you can't have ads - but as screens get larger, publishers are making web pages more complex and that's a bad thing. They could learn a lot by looking at their own app screens and then wielding a digital scalpel.


Kevin said...

I agree, in the last few years many popular websites (newspaper sites being the main example) pack so many pictures, videos, animations etc on every page that browers can struggle loading them in addition to frustrating the user.

Kevin said...