At MadPow’s Healthcare Experience Design 2012 conference this week in Boston, Josh Clark the founder of design consulting firm Global Moxie shared his “Seven Deadly Mobile Myths” in a presentation that would likely resonate with many working in mobile health today. Clark’s first major foray into healthcare apps was with the very popular Couch-to-5K website and app, which originally launched in 1996. More recently, Clark helped Asthmapolis design and launch its app for inhaler medication tracking and asthma trigger mapping.
Clark argued that there are a range of “mobile cultures” out there and too often designers and developers have a simple or even condescending view of mobile. It’s an “every user and platform is the same as the next” mindset, he said, and the result is often “dumbed down apps” and sites that “patronize” users, Clark said.
Here are Clark’s “Seven Deadly Mobile Myths”.
Myth #1. Mobile users are always distracted and in a rush.
While it’s true that mobile phones and smartphones are a great way to look something up on the go, mobile users are not always distracted or in a rush. Mobile isn’t just on the go, Clark said. It’s also on the couch and accessible during that three hour layover at the airport. Clark said a recent survey found that some 40 percent of people use their phones in the bathroom, too. When it comes to mobile, sometimes these device have our complete attention. It’s a mistake to assume that mobile users are “all jittery” and using the devices for short sessions. The result of that thinking is a lot of bad ideas, Clark said.
Myth #2. Mobile means less.
Clark argued that mobile should not mean “lite”. Mobile content and features should be at least the same as other platforms and in some cases they should offer more, Clark said. This is very obvious in mobile health where third party peripheral devices are just starting to spring up. Clark said designers should ask: How can we do more with these devices?
Myth #3. Complexity is a dirty word.
Complexity is “awesome”, according to Clark. Complexity is what gives our apps richness. For many health services all that complexity of data is what we need for them to be useful. We can’t just dumb it down, Clark said. He drew a sharp distinction between complexity and “complication”. The trick is to “make complexity uncomplicated,” Clark said. Create “complex yet comprehensible applications.” Clark pointed to his favorite weather app, which just lets him know whether he needs to take an umbrella with him to work in the morning. That’s all he cares about. The app itself manages to leverage a lot of complex data to arrive at its conclusion, but Clark only cares about one thing: umbrella or no umbrella? What kind of complexities do health app users need revealed to them?
Myth #4. Extra taps and clicks are evil.
Clark made an interesting point about this widespread belief that too many taps, clicks, and menus leads to less usable apps: “This comes from network latency,” he said. With today’s cellular networks and WiFi networks, information is pretty quickly and readily available, he said. As long as each tap delivers extra information or even a smile, then extra taps are okay. Even good. It’s a more about “tap quality” than “tap quantity”, according to Clark.
Myth #5. Gotta have a mobile website.
Clark said we should focus on designing things that look great on any platform, including desktop, mobile phones, tablets, and maybe even voice, television or devices we haven’t even imagined yet. There is not a separate web for any of these: “If you want to reach as many people as possible – create sites and apps that will adapt for their container,” Clark said. He also noted that if your site bumps users on mobile phones to a “mobile.mysite.com”, then you are probably doing it wrong. The “u” in URL stands for universal: You only need one.
Myth #6. Mobile is about apps.
The focus on creating apps for different platforms and devices is what has us running in a panic right now, Clark said. An app is not a strategy though. Your product is not an app though — it’s the content. Make that content work for all platforms.
Myth #7. CMS and APIs are for data nerds.
CMS (content management systems) and APIs not for the data nerds anymore, Clark said. “Metadata is the new art direction,” he noted, quoting Ethan Resnick. Designers and developers need to let go of some of the control about data and “face the multiscreen future” by designing structured content.
Clark concluded that if we can get rid of these “stubborn myths” then designers can better recognize that they have some of the most interesting work right now: “We should embrace this uncertainty we face and think big,” Clark said. “And please, go make something amazing.”