Local Is What Makes The Web On Mobile Important

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Andy Ihnatko

First let me throw out a couple of assumptions. I am assuming that most people are at least similar to me and that the average person doesn’t drive around with more than a smartphone in their pocket. Yes I know there are exceptions, but I don’t plan on talking about edge cases. Now with those assumptions, let’s look at a scenario.

It’s a nice summer day, I decide to walk around downtown or stroll down the walking path by the river. I see shops and restaurants. I have three options on how to approach this interaction.

  1. Simply walk in and out of the shops and restaurants until I find something that fits my mood.
  2. Download and install the native app for each shop and restaurant I pass so I can explore what they offer before choosing where to go.
  3. Do a simple Google search to find all the restaurants or shops near me and go to the website to quickly explore.

San Francisco Plane CrachBefore you assume you will simply do the first one, let’s look at a photo from yesterday’s San Francisco plane crash posted by David Eun to Twitter.

First, your plane just crashed, it’s on fire, black smoke is billowing out, and, from this photo, at least two people stopped, pulled out their phone and took pictures and, in the case of David Eun, posted the photo with a short statement to both Path and Twitter.

I think it is more common to check your phone first than not today. The phone has become, good or bad, the lens through which we see and interpret the world.

Phones at a concert

So, I am going to scratch number one from the list.

It’s absurd to think you could download and explore each shop or restaurant’s native apps, even if we assume they all have them, and most won’t.

That leaves number three as the most likely choice for the average person. To be honest, I normally do that same interaction, but from home prior to going anywhere so I can easily pull up a book mark or map while I am out and about, but sometimes something will catch my eye that I will want to explore.

The real question is, when I look at your site, can I find the information I am looking for or am I blocked by what looks like great fun and eye catching ornamentation in the marketing presentation, but is completely useless when I am on my phone looking for the restaurant menu or list of products in stock?

This is the great fallacy of modern web design, ornamentation over substance.

When most people look at a website they want some basic information, especially if it is a local business. What is your address? What is your phone number? What does the restaurant look like inside? What is on the menu (hint: PDF’s suck to look at on a phone)? What products are you selling? Are they in stock?

You have about 8 seconds to convey the answers to most of those questions or a person is going to move on. It turns out that the one thing we don’t lack in modern society is choice.

Whether you love or hate Apple products, you have to agree with their philosophy that design is more about saying no than it is about saying yes. I think on the web, we could all use to say no a little more often and we would all be better off.

This idea certainly carries over to a national or international brand sites, but I spend a lot more time trying to find local information than I do trying to find national and international information. Test it for yourself. Keep a log of all the web sites you visit on your smart phone during a day and see how many are local compared to international. Watch how you use the device in your life. What makes you think everyone else wants information different than what you want?