Tips for design for mobile devices

Mar 21, 2013

Hi everyone,

I'm creating a course which will be used entirely on mobile devices and wondered what tips people have about optimal design. I am avoiding graphics and using bold colours, clear fonts and big buttons, but I'm not sure about the overall look and feel. Should mobile courses have a different look and feel? My teenage son says it should look more high-tech and like the free apps he's fond of using.

What do people think?

6 Replies
Steve Flowers

There was a brief discussion of mobile best practices last year.

We've been taking a look at mobile over the last year and have come to the conclusion that mobile isn't about device, it's about context, preference, and habits. And the worst way we could consider going mobile is aiming a shrink ray at traditional patterns of e-learning (especially since many of these patterns aren't really all that helpful)


- Mobile implies on the move and wherever you are. This means people can now use a device to learn something both "in the workflow" and away from their desk (on the metro, in a plane, etc..) These contexts suggest that the design and construction of a mobile resource conforms to either what folks need when they need it (vice a long form presentation) or preferences and habits (including tolerances). So a short video (2 minutes) that shows someone how to accomplish a task is better than a long set of screens that tells how, why, when (15 minutes). People will be more likely to tolerate consuming a 2 minute video than a 15 minute slide presentation.


- Folks may not tolerate looking at their screens for long periods of time. My wife reads books on hers in short bursts (10 - 15 minutes at a time) but these are leisure activities. The tolerance for looking at a screen will likely be less than listening to a piece of media unless the participant REALLY wants to consume the content. Watching how people LIKE to use their devices should inform how we design FOR PEOPLE that use devices. Are most people more likely to listen to a 10 minute block of audio than watch a 10 minute presentation on their phone? Probably. Are people more likely to use their phone or tablet to access a piece of information quickly and move onto their task or sit for 20 minutes through an in-depth presentation that dances around the topic? Probably the quick-and-go.


- This is the hard one. Device habits vary greatly and investing a bundle of time designing something that folks won't habitually access could be an epic waste of time. If the content solution is going to require a new set of habits to be useful, planning to develop those habits or make it "easier to do the right thing" is critical.

Building resources instead of courses is a great way to design for "moments of need". Done right, these same resources can be useful on the desktop as well as the device. Responsive design and newer web standards provide a great set of tools for allowing personalizable experiences and content that adapts to the viewport.

Ann Evans

Hi Steve and Marcel

Thanks for your useful posts.

Marcel: your link isn't working. I don't suppose you've got another one I could try.

Steve: your thoughts are very useful and have given me food for thought. My "course" is a revision aid for students, designed for them to be able to dip in and out. I think it will work well on a smartphone, provided I can keep it simple enough and easy to use. The previous discussion is going to help me getting some of the technical stuff right (size etc.).

Thanks both

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