Conference Recap: Design 4 Mobile 2010

I’ve returned and finally had a chance to look at my notes from Design 4 Mobile, an event put on by Little Springs Design in Evanston, Illinois. In short, the event was masterfully run, full of deep insights and presentations from industry experts and even had enough, “Wow factor” to keep the most jaded conference goers and mobile tech enthusiasts engaged for the duration of the event.

Prior to attending, I reached out to the CEO of Little Springs, Barabara Ballard, asking her for an overview of the conference and some insight into the event’s focus. She provided this thoughtful and well put statement:

Design For Mobile is, at its heart, a community. Indeed, the wiki of
design resources (found here: )
predates both the conference and the Design For Mobile brand itself.
We did this because there weren’t any other places to learn or share
about mobile user experience in the western hemisphere, unless we
wanted to rely on specific manufacturers for the information.

Continuing on, she speaks to the sad truth of state of affairs in terms of mobile conferences in the states:

To put it another way, we at Little Springs Design needed to continue
to improve our mobile UX knowledge, and it is cheaper to run a
conference then send us all to Europe for conferences that don’t match
our needs, or a conference here in the states that was mobile (with
1-2 design sessions) or design (with 1-2 mobile sessions).

In closing, she wraps it up, stating the ethos of her design company succinctly.

We believe that a great user experience can be had with delivery with
a lot of different devices (from iPhone to feature phone) using a lot
of different delivery methods (from apps to web to text). We believe
that mobiles are not just small computers, but a fundamentally
different type of device that is both lesser, and greater, than
computers. We believe that user needs and cognition are different when
they are mobile. And we believe that designing for mobile is a lot of

I have to say, after seeing the effort that she and her company put forth in scheduling, producing and executing Design 4 Mobile, I am certain that she is very very right. They brought together a killer list of speakers, had an excellent bunch of sponsors and lined up some great gadgets and networking events as well to keep things moving at a good pace.

I spent a good portion of the event hanging with UX Magazine’s Juan Sanchez, of Effective UI, and I will be anxious to hear his take on the event as well. He has posted his first day recap here.

I wish I had seen Tuesday’s presentations, in particular, Future of Mobile UX presentation by: Jonathan Brill, but I missed the first two days of the event due to work and teaching. I drove up after hours on Tuesday night to be sure I wouldn’t miss Wednesday. I am glad that I didn’t miss it. Nancy Proctor opened the day with a presentation on Mobile in Museums. Since a large portion of Iona’s work has perennially been with museum clients, I was especially interested in seeing what she had to say. I was not disappointed. Her deck along with many other great presentations she has put together is available on Slideshare, here. Spend a few minutes and flip through it:

Nancy covered some very interesting ways the Smintsonian is employing mobile to create scoail and more engaging visitor experiences as the museum moves from a traditional stance of serving as a repository of things to a repository of digital assets. She stressed how mobile shouldn’t be about the technology, but rather about how to connect people in new and engaging ways in the museum. Very cool ideas indeed. For some of the deeper detail check out this website.

After Nancy’s presentation, Scott Jenson presented Mobile Diversity: the coming Zombie Apocalypse. It was informative and really entertaining. Scott talked about some key differences between mobile apps and web sites. Not a lot of new info there, per se, but some new insights on how this situation is escalating and is quickly getting out of hand. Take this example from his presentation:

You are at a concert and want to know about the opening band, but you can’t remember who they are… Where do you look in terms of apps? The venue’s, the headlining act’s? Getting ridiculous, maybe the band shell has app? How about the trash can next to you? If you simply use the mobile web, your answer is easy… Google (or your search engine of choice). It was a fun way to make a point very well. You can grab his deck here.

After that, Steven Hoober was up with Mobile Device Specifications, or Politics Is Fun. His presentation was novel in that the slides were actually print outs displayed via an ELMO. Kinda retro and fun. I liked it. The content wasn’t super new or ground breaking, but there were some interesting points on creating documentation that were good all by themselves. One key point:

If you can’t document it, you can’t design/build it. If you can’t build it, you can’t sell it.

So very true. Documentation can make or break a product.

Steven’s main points on creating good docs: Clarity, Consistency, Extensibility, Accuracy, Avoid Duplicates. All great points. I look forward to seeing the slides and will update this post once I track ‘em down.

So, all that was before lunch. Whew. So, after some good conversation and food, things got kicked back up again with Ryan Unger’s rather fun and non-traditional presentation on “Navigation Design for Mobile”. He was fun, though maybe just a smidge rambling. I really identified with a couple points: “Mobile is the Snickers, Web is the Steak Dinner”, “Your Mobile Navigiation Should Be Able to Handle Your Content Doubling Tomorrow” and “Be the Pet Psychic, Build Familiarity and Go From There”. It was a good presentation overall, though a bit cloying, really.

The “What gestures do people actually use?”, presentation by: Dan Mauney on the other hand was anything but light on details and great information. Dan shared the results of a huge multinational heuristic study that sought to determine what cultures use what gestures. The results were fascinating. I do hope he publishes the results, or at the very least, the deck he used in the session. Amazing detail and thoroughness! 9 countries, 28 gestures, over 9500 gestures logged. Gestural inputs definitely vary across cultures. Experts DO want different gestures than novices. Somewhat indecipherable commands like “Print” or “Share” DO likely provoke UI hacks like right click menus or popovers. Also, a nice piece of trivia… The clapper may have been the first gestural input device. I’ll embed the original ad here for kicks:

“Smartphone Text Input Methods Compared: Which is Best?” presentation by: Nika Smith was next, and overall, a good and very decent exploration of which device offered speediest and most error free input. I would have liked to see a little more unbiased testing. ie. Keyboard emulators, etc being deployed on the devices rather than only testing the actual OS keyboards provided, thought that would admisttedly be a costly and time consuming test suite to complete. In short, it was somewhat unsurprising… iPhone users type faster on iPhones. Blackberry users faster on Blackberries, etc. No single system was “walk up ready” though… Each one required novice users some time to get acquainted with them. It was interesting though, that users familiar with specific devices tended to make more mistakes on those devices than on the others. That same familiarity breeds sloppiness, I guess.

The very entertaining Corey Pressman was up next. And though he was shown up by the very smart and well informed Judy Brown on a couple minor facts, there is no denying he may have been the most entertaining speaker of the event. his roots in anthropology showed as he talking about monolithic techonlogy and the progression into micro-monolithic (read flints and arrowheads)… in his words “a whole lot of animals died”, speaking about the boon to humanity that the mastery of the first mobile tools were. Very fun parallel. He played it up and was a real treat to listen to.

After that, the day was done for the official agenda and thing moved on to the planned networking event sponsored by Motorola. It was de rigueur but not a bad time either. Some good conversation with various speakers and others ensued. This was one area that Design 4 Mobile was really nice. The event was small enough that the speakers were approachable and the attendees seemed to all be interested in learning and sharing. Very cool indeed. I finished the eveining with some tapas and a nice draft Goose Island Sofie. Delicious. ;-)

The next day was pretty much taken by Microsoft. Their new Windows 7 Phone was the superstar of the day. Beautiful UI. Wow. I have been an iPhone user since day 1, but this is a tempting platform. I’ve been looking for something past the standard homescreen full of apps. Windows Phone seems to do that. various designers, evangelists and other were on hand to demo devices and talk about the tenets of the OS’s design. Really, it was a very informative and very grassroots style approach to build support. And they got it. The place was really abuzz after Albert Shum, Paula Guntaur, Chris Bost and Chris Bernard gave their talks. Biran Gorbett was there to field questions too. A really well planned approach and their polish paid off. I think they built a lot of support that day.

The last non -MS session I attended was Nick Finck’s. I have to say I wan’t blown away. He gave a good presentation, and perhaps to some it was new stuff, but an introductory session on wireframes and paper prototyping wasn’t what I expected from someone as sharp as him. I follow Nick on Twitter and enjoy his commentary, I just may have expected more.

After lunch, I was out… I had to go teach, so I couldn’t see more, though I anxiously await hearing more from the other attendees that may have been documenting the afternoon sessions. Anthony Hand and Jason Grigsby had some great sessions as I could tell from the tweets.

In conclusion, I think you couldn’t have asked more from the event or the organizers. Great speakers, sessions and sharing. Awesome. Little Springs deserves a well earned break. I hope that the event can live up to it the next time it is scheduled! Nice work everyone involved.

BTW, it was nice to attend to cover and take notes… and not speak. That said, come see me at Adobe MAX in October!

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  1. Adam Bockler Sep 28

    Nice post, Chad.

    I’d never been into mobile much until I got my Droid Eris but I’ve been following it more since then. For somebody who isn’t a mobile expert, I thought this was a great way to learn a little about what’s going on in that community.

  2. Steven Hober Sep 28

    > Steven’s main points on creating good docs: Clarity, Consistency, Extensibility, Accuracy, Avoid Duplicates. All great points. I look forward to seeing the slides and will update this post once I track ‘em down.

    Hmm… I really don’t have slides. And no one videotaped me, so… anyone got any ideas how to share? I can give /some/ of the docs, and my original script out, somehow.

  3. wudwan Oct 1

    Your posts are always an eye-opener for me. Thanks.

  4. Eduard – People Skills Decoded Oct 4

    Sounds like an interesting conference. The world of mobile design is definitely growing.

  5. Studio3 Oct 20

    Your articles are amazing…keep it up!

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