Published: 12 December 2012

The mobile evolution – a charity perspective

Nokias in the 1990s connected people and became the mass-appeal, must-have personal gadget for a generation. By 2005 smart phones were accessing the internet, allowing people to download applications and interact on social media in an immediate way.

For most people their mobile has become the primary multi-purpose, multi-functional device they have with them 24 hours a day. And that is the evolution – mobiles are the turn-to, and sometimes the only, device people now use because they can carry out actions they would have needed several devices for in the past.

Three considerations

  • Time spent looking at information on mobiles

People think of a question, turn to their mobile for an answer, get it and that’s often the end of the journey. Reading at length and going off at tangents following related links is often not as commonplace as when sat comfortably in front of a desktop machine.

  • Levels of distraction

People use their phones throughout the day. In most cases, they are distracted by other things: getting ready for work; walking; other commuters on public transport; eating; or the TV, for example.

  • User expectations

People expect mobile to enable them to get answers, provide those answers in a rich way and make the absolute most of the capabilities of the device – not just serve up text in a web page.

We need to guard against seeing mobile as another delivery platform for desktop experiences. Or worse – a cut down version of the desktop website. Yes, mobiles have smaller screens, limitations in terms of connection speeds and network coverage. But the limitations of desktop machines are vast in comparison; people no longer need to be told “Pick up the phone and call us!” – they can just tap the telephone number on screen. They no longer need to print out a map from a website, they can use the in-built navigation function of the mobile that is able to be geo-located through its GPS. No longer does a poster have to have a memorable URL printed on it for the causal passer-by to try to remember when they get home. A QR code alternative will enable smart phone users to scan it and go straight to the page whilst still in front of the poster.

The ways organisations are embracing and exploiting the multi-functions available on mobile devices is only set to grow.

So what does this mean for charities?

We in the charity world have to be careful to spend money donated to us wisely and add value to our services with it. We also have to find ways to show those that donate to us what a huge impact they are making. We have to encourage our supporters to continue to support our worthy causes. What does the mobile evolution offer us over desktop websites?

  • Provision of information and services can be more easily personalised
  • Fundraising and campaigning can be made much more immediate
  • Enabling supporters to get involved can be much more localised

But, when commissioning work, we need to have a good understanding of how embracing mobile is not just an editorial challenge, but a technical one as well.

Some tips

  • There are lots of buzz words and phrases in use that mean different things to different people (e.g. mobile first, responsive design, device detection, progressive enhancement, graceful degradation).
  • Mobile should not just be a cut-down view of a desktop site. Neither should it be the whole desktop site reproduced for the smaller screen.
  • Organisations should concentrate on what the core information is that they want to communicate across all devices. Then look at each individual type (by grouping similar devices together – for example, feature phones, smart phones, tablets, desktops) and work out how each can enhance the core content and provide extra device-specific content.
  • Do server-side device detection and use that to determine what to send to the different devices detected. Don’t send everything to every device and expect it to sort out what to display (why send a something on 3G any more data than it needs to display?).
  • Beware full-service agencies that have mobile as a bolt-on to their core business.

Andy Nash, digital project manager, Macmillan

Andy has worked in the digital arena for 18 years, including both public sector and charity. He moved from desktop web to mobile in 2010 and now evangelises daily on the need for everyone else to join him. He is passionate about user centered design and build.