Ask the Agency: Mobile UX

Editor’s Note: In this new series from the creatives at BKWLD, they’ll answer common questions from clients about experience and and digital design work. 

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As designers, we spend a lot of time sharing knowledge with each other, but what do our clients need to know? A UX designer answers commonly asked questions from clients.

Q: This year the percentage of mobile traffic to our site has jumped to over 45%, and our executive team is taking notice. What’s your approach to mobile and responsive design in regards to user experience?”

A: It seems like the year-end wrap-ups for the past five years have declared “this is the year of mobile.” Looking at analytics data for clients’ sites it seems 2015 may have been the year where mobile finally started to match or eclipse desktop traffic, and now people are really starting to pay attention.

We’ve been designing responsive and mobile sites for quite a while now, and in most cases, have found that a fully responsive design is preferable. As far as a UX strategy, I advocate a content-first approach, with a device-agnostic mindset. When it comes to web content, there’s no evidence to support the idea that users on mobile devices are seeking anything different than desktop users, so the question is more about “what are people looking for, and how can we deliver it in a great way?”

For the past few years, that’s meant stripping out some of the “whiz-bang” stuff from mobile views (video, animation, etc.). But as mobile grabs more of the pie and technology evolves, I think we’re going to see more clever creative that truly puts mobile first and takes advantage of some of the native device capabilities (accelerometer, GPS, etc.), rather than just the pure horsepower and connection speeds of desktop machines.

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Q: We have been struggling with the distinction between UX, UI, and Visual Design. There seems to be some ownership issues as it relates to what a UX versus what a visual designer does. How does the agency model handle those types of ownership issues? Who does what?

A: I think the key here is understanding what user experience is — it’s the sum total of a user’s interaction with your site (or app, software, whatever). The user doesn’t care about who did the visual design, who shot the photos, or who wrote the code. They just care that it’s beautiful, easy to use, and performs well. Great UX has to have all three, so it’s important to understand that every single person working on a project makes a very real contribution to the user experience, and it’s a little dangerous to silo UX into a single role or department.

Think of a project in three parts: Planning, Designing, and Building. Planning includes research, strategy and preliminary concepts and sketches. The goal is to align the agency with the client on project objectives and establish a preliminary visual theme and, along with some research, with real users to validate this thinking. Designing which includes wireframes and visual designs in Photoshop or Sketch, and sometimes animated prototypes. Finally Building, where production-ready code is created.

There is almost always overlap between phases, and it usually varies with project requirements. The most important thing to remember is that your team is all working towards the same goal, and the end user who you are serving doesn’t really care who did what, as long as the overall product is great.

Q: As a client, Im sometimes confused about what feedback I should be giving during the different phases of design. For example, at what point does copywriting become finalized, when are images finalized, etc.? I often hear ‘we can think about that laterand I worry that those things will get lost in the shuffle.

A: This is probably the thing that we hear clients struggling with most, and there’s no great solution other than having an open line of communication between designer and client.

Building a website is a lot like building a house. When we think about walking into a house, we think about the color, the fixtures, etc. But before all of that stuff comes into play, we need to figure things out like, ‘How many people will live here? How many bathrooms do they need? etc. Those things are less tactile but super important to get right. So we start at a high-level and gradually work towards the details.

Every agency has a slightly different process for getting to that final product, but the most important thing is to have an open line of communication. It’s all too easy for us as people who do this all day every day to forget that not everyone knows what’s expected at each step. If you’re in a review and you’re not sure what you’re supposed to be giving feedback on, by all means ask.

What are the most common questions you hear from clients? Do you have questions about user experience or digital design? Hit us up on Twitter @HOWbrand #AskTheAgency. 

In the latest online course from HOW Design University and Sessions College, learn how to take a Systematic Approach to Information Design. You’ll explore how to take a site’s architecture from concept to reality, gaining insights into project management.