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How NOT to design for mobile

Posted on: August 23, 2014

There are numerous rules for designing web pages for consumption and interaction on mobile devices. Just as important as the DOs are the DO NOTs.

Do not simply transfer a desktop page to a mobile device. Rationale: There is less screen real estate and readability drops on smaller mobile screens.

Do not embed superfluous media. Rationale: Animations, video, and even audio are resource hogs, consume extra data, and might have unexpected results.

Take what happens when STcom embeds links in its tweets.

If you click a link on desktop browser (say via TweetDeck), Android Twitter, or iOS Twitter, the desktop version of the news article attempts to load.


On a laptop or desktop computer, you expect to get a full desktop page whether or not you are a subscriber. You can get less ad-filled reading by installing an adblocker in a browser like Chrome. My current favourite is uBlock as it has the effectiveness of the open source AdBlock Plus but with a smaller memory footprint.

Besides the old school banner ads (top) and column ads (right side), video ads or video “value adds” load on the upper right, but do not play automatically. Thankfully!

On Android Twitter, the URL causes mobile Chrome to launch, the desktop version of the page to load, and the videos do not auto play.

But I rarely use an Android. I am on iOS and consume local news via an iPhone or an iPad mini. 

On both iOS devices, Twitter will load the desktop version of the page in the Twitter app itself. On the iPhone, the desktop pages make reading very difficult, but at least the videos do not play automatically. However, on the iPad mini, the embedded videos play automatically nine out of ten times I view a page.

If I did not mind STcom using up my data allocation, I certainly mind that the videos play without my asking.

The videos come in at least two forms. Some are actual videos that can be paused. Others are ads that seem to have pause buttons, but when I tap on them, they open up full page ads that prevent me from reading the article.

Both types of videos somehow override the audio setting. I have my iPad mini on hardware controlled mute most of the time. But these videos auto play and blast their unwelcome noise late as night or when I am out in public. 

I do not always have earphones or headphones plugged into my device. When I do, the videos are loud and jarring. When I do not, they annoy me and surprise those around me. I have to resort to manually turning down the volume even though the system is already on mute.

All this makes for a terrible user experience. Given that devices like the iPad mini are popular, it is surprising that STcom did not conduct better usability studies. If STcom cared about its readers and potential customers, it should. 

The same thing could be said for designing mobile learning. The perspective to take should be that of the learner, i.e., learner-centric design. Not just in terms of interface usability, but also in terms of instructional strategy, content level, social learning opportunities, and more.

If you care, you do what it takes and it shows.

If you take this trouble, your learners will thank you for it. If m-learning or e-learning is your business, your learners will come back for more. If you ignore them, they will not only go elsewhere, they will also tell others to stay away.

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