Mobile First: Treating The Symptoms, Not The Disease

by Dustin Collis, Senior Director, Technology Solutions, EPAM United States

The reality is that “Mobile First” is yet another .COM bubble waiting to burst. Mobile First is a gateway drug for ignoring the business reality: your consumer wants information and needs a consumer experience that allows them to interact in an intuitive way with your web presence. Designing for mobile before understanding what the consumer needs or how they want it is akin to designing a very small chair for a child, who will one day grow into a teenager. Just because you know they need a chair right now doesn’t mean that the one you are building is the right one in the long run. So, what’s the solution?


User experience first

That’s right - User Experience First. I realize it’s not as catchy as Mobile First, Content First, or even Consumer First, but it does have the merit of being accurate. It also has a track record of being wildly successful.

Yes, Mobile First is an attempt at designing an experience that fits what we know is a growing trend for the consumption of data. However, focusing so narrowly averts attention from the reality: users consume data in a myriad of ways, for many different reasons. Let’s look at the chart below:

While smartphone and tablet are very popular, the desktop still has a big lead on usage for searching the Internet. Despite the fact that 80% of Internet users have a cellphone, 91% of them still use desktops to interact with the World Wide Web.

And of emerging devices used to search the web, the Smart TV- which, like a desktop, remains stationary inside one’s house and has an interface similar to a desktop’s- is the only device that seems to be gaining traction with audiences so far. People like their information on the go, but that doesn’t mean that people are abandoning desktops altogether. A mobile-first approach disregards desktop users and is likely to deliver a very poor experience.


Simplicity and engagement are key

Design for the user first, or as Steve Krug said, “Don’t make me think”. The experience they engage with has to be meaningful wherever they choose to interact with your brand. Whether that interaction is on a smartphone or an old Dell laptop that they’ve had issued to them by the company they work for, the consumer expects an intuitive and compelling experience. A truly smart approach is to create a user experience that is appropriate for each device and maintains the overarching brand experience across technological borders. Understand what your user needs based on what device he is using, and don’t assume that that device will always be mobile.

This isn’t just theory though. When executed properly, user experience drives revenue. When it isn’t, the customer service calls, operational needs, and the culture of a company are all affected adversely. Forrester’s CMO recently posted about the ambition in the market to drive a great customer experience. While he takes it farther than a digital one, it’s an important lesson that will be learned again in again as the market continues to evolve at a lightning pace.

Creating a user experience that drives revenue isn’t easy. But if it’s done right, typically through simplicity and engagement, it has a long tail. According to Gallop, revenues not only increase but also customer retention, which leads to increased profits over time. It isn’t a fad to give customers a good experience that treats them how they want to be treated; it’s the reality of business. Create a sustainable business advantage and you will outlast any tech trend.

With each new connected device comes a new challenge. From the Pebble watch to the “smart” refrigerator, customers will be finding new avenues to interact with products and services. Invigorating your focus on user experience is a journey and must be done in several iterations – there is no shortcut to intuitive and no, a focus group can’t tell you what that is. Whether you hire a firm to help you understand user needs or do it yourself, a good first step is removing your own institutional bias on what you believe your customers want/need. Once you’ve done that, you can begin.