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I worked at Bell Labs in Whippany, just down the hall from the team that developed cellular phone technology.  They were mostly ham radio operators (and helped me get my license KA2THY).  Those guys had no clue what a revolution they would spawn. And now, that technology is driving huge shifts in lifestyle, commerce, and industry worldwide.  


At HFI we get to work on mobile device design, and application design, in every market and domain you can imagine. We work on 3D displays, and gesture entry for foreign scripts, we work on secure banking in Africa, and entertaining educational devices.   And you might think I would be sick of hardware devices that are awkward.  You would think I would be concerned with applications that violate every imaginable principle of design. But my real concern is with the big picture issues. But with all that the challenge of mobile is in the big picture issues.  


Banks still sometimes think that they can port their online banking onto a mobile device and that will be just fine. They don’t realize that the ‘on the go’ mobile banking is just so different from the sit-down banking scenario.  We see mobile devices designed with no particular differentiator to address markets that are only roughly specified.  And we see so many designers that forget that most really good solutions today have to be an ‘ecosystem solution’ which fits into complex situations, with multiple roles and environments.  


We are just now releasing a course on mobile design which deals with navigation, information architecture, interaction, and presentation for mobile phones.  I’m glad to have the mobile class filling up already (the pilot is just happening now). And it will be great to teach this course to application developers before they create another awkward app.  


But I worry that designers will only deal with the design quality issues and will lose track of the big issues of strategy and innovation.  Because what I really hate to see is a carefully crafted design that is simply the wrong thing for that ecosystem.  It’s a waste.  And it was the wrong thing before the first wire-frame happened.


Eric Schaffer


Designing Applications and Websites for Mobile Phones


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