Book review: “The Mobile Frontier: A Guide for Designing Mobile Experiences”

Hinman, Rachel. 2012. The Mobile Frontier. New York: Rosenfeld Media.

Hinman, Rachel. 2012. The Mobile Frontier. Rosenfeld Media.

The frontier – a wild, unexplored land open for invention, filled with optimism and opportunity. It’s the golden age of mobile!

That’s how I interpret her naming of the book, and it goes well along with the rest of the content.

I hade the pleasure to attend the writer Rachel Hinman’s mobile prototyping workshop at UXLx in Lisbon earlier this year. I liked it, so as I came home I got her newly written book about designing mobile solutions (on my Kindle app of course, everything else would seem strange). Here are a few impressions.

What makes mobile different?

The beginning of the book describes the differences between designing for desktop and mobile and a short history lecture of user interfaces, from the command line (CLI) to organic user interfaces (OUI). I liked this part, as it creates a basic understanding of the difficulties that designers face with the so far relatively unexplored land of mobile UX and modern technology.

She goes deeper into the challenges related to the different contexts – “anywhere and everywhere” – that need to be considered while designing for mobile, and mentions dealing with situations of multitasking, task switching and continuous partial attention from users. She also goes deeper into how paradigms are going to change from the PC era. Sounds a bit theoretical perhaps, but I highly recommend to get the book and read more about it. Of course there’s also the mandatory part on when to build a native app, when to go for web technology and responsive web design.

She continues: Designing for mobile means designing for convergence. That is, designing for shapeshiftning between devices and environments (ecosystems), and that’s hard since mental models for ecosystems don’t exist yet. That everything is new and more or less unexplored is a recurring theme of the book (hence the “frontier”).

Patterns and how to design

I found the first part most interesting, but it was good all the way. She goes on to list a number of emerging mobile patterns she’s found and a bunch of good tips concerning input methods before going into more tips on how to prototype mobile experiences and why. This is basically what the workshop in Lisbon was about, and consists of some good concrete advice on tools and techniques to use, as well as some good Disney-inspired parts about animation.

The Future

Rachel wraps up the book with a few trends from other parts of the world and how the explotion of mobile usage has changed the lives of people that use computers and mobile phones in considerably different ways than most of us in the Western world do. That plus how technologies like NFC, RFID and augmented reality will change how people use stuff and live their lives.

All in all, an inspirational book with both good advice and stories about the challenges and opportunities of mobile design. A well-timed release for sure.

Be sure to read it before everything has changed again.

The book’s website at Rosenfeld Media (including a free chapter)