UX Lx 2013: The Mobile Content Mandate

UX Lx 2013: The Mobile Content Mandate

In her presentation at UX Lx 2013, Karen McGrane made the point for great content on mobile and how to build a supporting strategy.

She discussed why mobile is no longer a nice to have, why it is a responsibility in every sense and what happens if you do not act on it today. For 31% of Americans, the internet lives inside their pocket, so I guess that is more than enough for you to start paying attention to this lady. Karen McGrane made sure that everyone left the auditorium for lunch with the awareness and knowledge ready to do mobile right, right from the start.

You can follow my notes alongside the slides from her talk, available here.

  • In the late-1980s, DEC (Digital Equipment Corporation) was the world’s second-largest computer company. During his time as CEO of the company, Ken Olsen stated: “There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home.”
  • In 1990, DEC’s minicomputers sales would be surpassed by quality-inferior personal computers such as the Commodore PET or the Apple II. The company suffered its first quarterly loss and would register full-year losses in five of the next seven years.
  • Remember history when someone (probably at your company) says: “There is no reason anyone will need to do that on mobile.”
  • “In industry after industry, […] the new technologies that had brought the big, established companies to their knees weren’t better or more advanced — they were actually worse. The new products were low-end, dumb, shoddy, and in almost every way inferior.” — Larissa MacFarquahar, The New Yorker
  • Disruptive innovation is giving the mass market access to a technology that was previously restricted to a few people. Remember radios, printers, photography, personal computers, and now mobile phones.
  • Today, mobile acts as a low-end alternative to the larger desktop/laptop market.
  • Statistics: 20% of Americans have no internet access at all; 35% have no internet access at home; 38% of low-income Americans have no internet access; 57% of Americans with no high school diploma have no internet access.
  • How these statistics relate to mobile: 88% of Americans own a mobile phone and 55% use it to access the internet. This gave rise to the “Mobile Only” user: 31% of Americans only or mostly use the internet on mobile.
  • “Mobile was the final frontier in the access revolution. It has erased the digital divide. A mobile device is the internet for many people.” — Susannah Fox, Pew Research
  • Holding back features and content from those “Mobile Only” users is treating them as second-class citizens. Mobile is no longer a nice to have, it is a responsibility.


Content Strategy for Mobile

  • Know your workflow:
    • The way we approach content has to change. Having one team cater to desktop and another to mobile does not deliver the same content experience across different contexts and devices. The whole organization needs to be focused on writing unique, adaptable, universal and accessible content.
    • It is not a strategy if you cannot maintain it. Measure and improve upon your content.
  • Write better:
    • There is no such thing as “How to Write for Mobile.” There is just good writing.
    • “It’s not that it was designed and written for mobile, it's just good content.” — David Balcom, American Cancer Society
    • Good content transcends platforms, write great content, use it everywhere.
  • Chunk your blobs (or reuse your content):
    • Create your content as a flexible re-usable system. Clean, presentation-free chunks of content that can be used in different ways in your presentation layer.
    • Don't create content for a specific context.
    • Responsive design won't fix your content problem.
    • For imagery, build a package of image crops that can adapt to different situations, present and future.
    • Add flexibility to your current Content Management System with multiple field variations, based on length (e.g., 60, 100 and 200 characters) and/or tone & style (e.g., SEO-optimized and colloquial).
    • In its purest format, progressive disclosure means offering a good teaser. Truncation is not a content strategy. Bad example: the Guardian Truncation Team Tumblr celebrates “the work of the tireless men & women who shorten headlines so they'll fit on your iPhone.”


Wrapping up

  • You don't get to decide which device people use to access your content. They do.
  • Disruptive technologies eventually get good, or they redefine what good means. Remember history: Kodak is bankrupt, Instagram is worth millions.
  • Do mobile right. Right from the start.
  • We need to leverage the client-side technologies to adapt content, but most of the work needs to come from the back-end.


If you’re interested in this topic, you can follow Karen McGrane on Twitter.

This post marks the end of our UX Lx 2013 recap series, but our team is already preparing a few more design articles so stay tuned.

Share your thoughts about this talk on the comments section below. How is your company managing content across contexts/platforms? Do you feel responsible for providing a consistent content experience?