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#TECH: Designing A Mobile App? Design For A Mobile Device!

Text messaging to the Red Cross to raise money

Who needs an app for that?

The nonprofit world is going mobile. The move might be slower than in the corporate world, but it’s steady, and nonprofits are developing ways to get around software or contractual walls. Mobile apps encourage supporters to stay engaged with your organization and its programs, and the apps also can give volunteers and staff in the field access to necessary information from the home office and/or report developments to that office. Best of all, mobile apps could links developments on projects directly to the mobile donors who can instantly see the link between their support and the progress the charity is making.

But before you get all buzzed about the synergy, you should be aware of the challenges of developing an application for mobile devices, including the fact that there are so many kinds of mobile devices.

An iPad 2, for example, has lower screen resolution but more screen real estate, than an iPhone 4S. An app’s graphics will look quite different on the two devices, and you need to take that issue into account. Multiply that by the resolutions and software of Android and Windows phones, and you need no coding skills to appreciate the ft that one size does not fit all.

Ryan Matzner goes into great detail in a list of ’10 Mistakes’ designers often make when developing mobile apps. Though Matzner wants to warn the code jockeys, his list provides an excellent strategic course for any organization or small business looking for a way to utilize the ever-expanding mobile market.

A Workflow from Ryan Matzner's post on MashablePerhaps not surprisingly, you want to have a plan for the app and flowmap of how you want people to use it: “Have a well-thought-out user flow ready to go before wireframes and designs begin. Even simple applications should have a well-considered flowmap in place to help ensure a logical and reasonable navigational structure.” Mobile is all about convenience, and nothing will turn off a donor faster than the sensation that he or she is lost in your app within a push or two on the screen.

Some of the mistakes are indeed technical and design-focussed: design for higher-resolution screens, then scale back if you need, rather than the other way around. Don’t stuff your design with buttons and images, just because high-resolution screens on the latest devices might allow you to do so. Don’t copy the overall style of one operating system to use on another (Windows Phone users will be disoriented if you use an iPhone aesthetic, for example. But then again, would anyone mind of those three people finally gave up their Windows phones?).

But some are good food for thought in any plan to reach out to your network of volunteers, donors, and potential customers. For example, let them know visually that the app is working, even if they are not quite where they are going in the app: “Leaving the user out of the loop when the app is loading or processing could cause users to think the app is malfunctioning. It’s also just a poor user experience. Don’t keep your users waiting on a blank screen while the app is loading content from the web. Use indicators and animations to give users a heads up that the app is working, but it’s just waiting on the phone or the network.”

One that we have really focussed on in our consultation and design work is the flexibility of usability. You might design an app to work in such-and-such a way, but others will use it differently (not ‘wrongly’). So draw in as many beta testers as you can, and not just from within your organization. Keep the loop small, but big enough that some will discover issues or raise concerns you hadn’t thought of yet.

Avoiding these 10 mistakes of mobile design is really not so dissimilar from avoiding all kinds of mistakes in the nonprofit world: “If there’s a single unifying element to all these design faux pas, it’s that the best designs are carefully considered. It comes down to thinking critically and completely about your methods. Really think through what your users are trying to achieve and let that inform your designs.” Too often, nonprofits want to cut costs (and corners) on research and development, which only means fewer donations later or more time and money spent fixing an issue down the road (and likely both!). Consider Matzner’s informative list a great road map to launch development of almost any project.

 

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