Responsive Design? Or Design That Feels Responsive To Us?

I had a good time last week in my Mobile Insider column lambasting some of the worst practices of the desktop Web that have crept into mobile. Ad clutter, poor ad scaling. Inexcusable ad intrusiveness and stupid responsive designs all made my list of common pests that we need to squash. But that is not to say we are bereft of good UX intentions in mobile. In fact, I am impressed by how many publishers and developers are thinking harder about what a mobile-first (and best) approach really means. So in the interest of fairness, and at the risk of losing my reputation as an industry grouch, let’s highlight some mobile design and functionality wins that bear watching and repeating.

I have a week back at the daily helm of MoBlog this week as Mark takes some time off. So let me indulge my better nature (fleeting as it may be) with some posts that highlight mobile content that underscores big and small innovations. Let’s spend a few of these summer days reflecting on examples that move the ball forward on mobile.

Mixing Up The Feed: the feed-based interface has gotten old about as fast as the blog scroll did when it was in fashion several years ago, although one is an extension of the other. The contemporary mobile feed publishing interface takes more of its cues from the staggeringly unimaginative folks at Facebook, which has been boring us with their design sense for years. The image+text tile-sized items in endless scrolls beg for some innovation. A few publishers are mixing it up. Yahoo Beauty, for instance, takes its cues from the fashion magazine world by filling the screen with enormous tiles, superimposing white headlines, and then mixing up the sizes. It seems like a silly and easy thing, but it makes the experience of the site just a little more fun and surprising. We also like the Yahoo design convention of telescoping articles out from the thumbnail rather than activating a page load. You just X out the article when done or continue through to scroll more thumbnails. This shows some harder thinking about streamlining and flattening user interactivity and rethinking the whole Back/Forward “pages” paradigm of the Web.

Curation In Context: I continue to be impressed by StumbleUpon’s video app 5by for sticking to its mission of curation. It uses my history and stated preferences to push videos to me that I generally do want to see and likely share. And if you launch the app just to snack on clips it recognizes the time of day and offers up videos of the right type and length to fit different viewing contexts? It calls itself Concierge mode, appropriately enough. From jumping between meetings to sitting on the john, it has a great interactive interface that lets you see more detail, share and tag easily without stopping the experience.

One of the things I like about both Yahoo’s and StumbleUpon’s mobile design here is that it feels responsive to user mindsets and use cases. It feels as if the interface understands how we actually browse and sip from mobile media. And in doing so these designs embody some of the intimacy of the medium itself. As much as a design can do, it feels like it is talking with us or at least working with us. 

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