How a Theme Emerges: Mobile Design at the Web App Masters Tour

Jared Spool

March 3rd, 2011

As we were finalizing the program for this year’s UIE Web App Masters Tour, a theme quickly emerged that we hadn’t originally planned on: designing mobile applications.

Up until now, mobile has been elusive for us. You see, we don’t talk about a subject just because it’s the latest fad. There are plenty of sources for hype-ridden design topics.

Instead, we wait until real expertise starts to take form. We keep looking for people who have a broad range of experience — the kind of folks who can answer all the difficult questions our audiences will throw at them.

When a topic is in its infancy, at best, the most advanced folks have experience doing one, maybe two designs. They don’t have the breadth of experience to deal with all sorts of difficult situations, only those situations they happened to encounter in their short-lived experience.

Our approach is to wait, to see what comes from it. If it’s just hype, then it goes away quickly, to be replaced by something new. But if it’s real, well, we can identify some experienced talent.

Mobile Emerging

Last year, a new book was all the rage: Josh Clark’s Tapworthy. We loved the book. At last fall’s IDEA conference, I was excited to share the stage with Josh. Turns out, Josh blew the audience away with a presentation on putting together a mobile design strategy. It was clever and information rich — which is perfect for a UIE program. I knew we had to have Josh on our program.

Luke Wroblewski was a top speaker from last year’s inaugural Web App Masters Tour. We had to have him back. Because of his shift from being Yahoo!’s Chief Design Architect to founding his own startup, he’s been thinking a lot about designing for mobile. He’s putting together a great presentation on what’s he’s learning about designing for a mobile experience first. We’ve been working through his outline, and the presentation is quite exciting.

I also reached out directly to Bill Scott, another of last year’s tour top speakers. He’s back at Netflix, now working on their sign-up experience. As we started discussing ideas for his topics, he shared what he’s been working on: making Netflix easy to sign up and manage on a multitude of devices — everything from iPads to Playstations. He’s been deep in making the subtle interactions work, like how you deal with hover and scrolling, with a range of input devices. (Does your app work with an internet-enabled TV remote control?) Turns out there are many general principles that every designer needs to know.

Our tour always includes people in the thick of designing their web-based applications, so we can hear their experiences. AARP has done an amazing job of keeping a 50-year-old organization completely state of the art. Mike Lee and I started hashing out what he could share, and guess what? AARP’s new efforts of shifting their publications and services to a mobile platform was the big story. He’ll share the trials and tribulations of turning the cruise ship to meet the new challenges of the mobile world.

While all of this was going on, I was thinking about what’s happening with experience design overall. It’s clear that there’s an energy around UX design that is far more vibrant than ever before. I wanted to know where that was coming from. As I dug into our research, I realized there are multiple forces making all this happen. And right in the middle of these forces is the world of designing for mobile. These forces are really strong, which means they’ll affect all of us. Want to know what they are? I’ll tell you at the tour.

When I set out for this year’s program, I didn’t expect half of the sessions to have mobile at their core. But here we are and I’m really excited about it. It’ll be a much deeper treatment than any we’ve seen before, which is perfect for the mission of the Web App Masters Tour — to prepare every web-based application designer for the intense challenges ahead.

[By the way, we’re just a few weeks away from our Philadelphia stop on the tour. We’re also stopping in Seattle and Minneapolis later this spring. Register for any stop by March 11 with the promotion code WAMT and you’ll get $300 off the final registration price.]

Register with the promotion code WAMT by March 11, 2011 for any of the Tour cities and pay just $795.

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