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We've all probably heard the term 'less is more,' and that saying is especially true for the mobile web. Sites that are crisp, clean, and succinct provide mobile experiences that are unobtrusive, easy to use, and really resonate with customers. The way you accomplish this in a mobile context is to simplify your designs to focus on content. Let's look at some general guidelines. First, use fewer fonts on a page-- usually no more than two or three--and maintain consistency among point sizes. Similarly, try to use fewer colors and graphic elements that won't compete for the user's attention.
These approaches yield pages that are more readable, especially in many mobile situations where lighting may not be optimal. Place important page controls like search boxes and navigation elements near the top of the page so that the user doesn't need to scroll to find them. Avoid using gratuitous graphics and unnecessary animation sequences and interactivity. These kinds of elements are usually employed to create some kind of splash screen, or welcoming sequence to a web site. On desktop PCs these elements might be tolerable, but on mobile they just get in the way of the user getting to their destination and the information they need.
They also use up precious battery life, resulting in a poor user experience. It's just generally a good idea to stay away from design elements like those on mobile pages. Background images can also cause problems for mobile web pages. First, they increase download time and cause unnecessary battery drain due to the increased network traffic, but more importantly, they can reduce readability when text is overlaid on top of them because when images are scaled down they tend to become darker and more dense. It's also harder to make pages with background images easy to read in varied lighting conditions, so avoid using them.
Make sure you optimize your images and other graphic elements for use on the smaller screen. Don't just resize larger images to be smaller widths and heights, because you're not actually decreasing the loading time or network traffic. You should also resample them to create smaller download sizes. If you use small graphic images, such as icons, for user interface elements, consider combining them into one image and then using CSS positioning to display each one in a div container. This cuts down on HTTP requests and makes pages load faster.
The proper use of white space can really help a page's readability. White space helps to visually separate elements from each other, which increases readability, and avoid conflicts between click targets that are near each other. Many mobile browsers will try to increase the size of click targets when pages are zoomed out, so white space will help reduce the amount of overlap between clickable elements. An important design consideration you may need to make is whether to give the user a way to switch to the full desktop version of your site. Why do this? Well, there's always going to be some subset of users that want to access certain less common features of your site that may not be available via the mobile version.
By giving these users a link to the desktop version, you can provide a way for these users to perform tasks that might otherwise be impractical to port to the mobile version of your site. Also, some devices, like tablets, tend to be used in both active and passive situations, and the user might be in a setting where they prefer to see the desktop version of the site because their device supports it. Another design consideration you might make is whether to give the user the ability to switch between lighter and darker versions of your site's style sheet in order to help increase readability under different lighting conditions.
Taking a closer look at the New York Times mobile web site, we can see how some of the principles of being crisp, clean, and succinct are implemented. First, notice that the homepage doesn't use any background colors or images, and they've placed the search control and section lump List at the top of the page, so they are prominently noticeable and easy to find again. The page is also optimized for vertical scrolling, which makes it easy to read with one hand while flicking up and down with my free thumb. The hyperlinks are in larger text, which makes them easier to tap, and they stand out more readily from the story text.
There is a link right at the top of the page that informs the user that there is a global edition of the paper that they can switch to. And again, it's prominently located at the top of the page, so it's one of the first things the user sees and learns about when the page loads. There is also minimal use of graphics-- just the logo, the ad at the top of the page, and images that go with the top stories. This decreases network traffic and helps the page to load faster. If we scroll down the homepage a little bit, we find that the page is divided into the same sections as the real physical Times paper, and there are four top- story links per section.
The section name also serves as a link for the user to dive into more detail in that section, should they so choose. There are a couple of main fonts that are used on the page-- one for the section headers, one for the story text and links--which makes the content easier to consume. White space is properly used to space out the links to avoid top conflicts, but not so much that the page feels like it's poorly designed. The page also displays some important information in a very compact space. The section for markets shows stock data for the Dow, S&P, and NASDAQ, including the most recent quote, percentage change, and point change, as well as whether it's up and down over yesterday's close, all in a space that's only about a half inch high.
Building pages such as this that are compact and yet information rich and easy to navigate is not particularly difficult. It just takes some planning. By following these guidelines, your pages can also be crisp, clean, and succinct.
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