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As and smartphones grow at record-setting pace, website design needs to catch up. When users point-and-tap rather than mouse-and-click, delivering a great customer experience needs a whole new design approach. Here are five ideas to start.

Imagine the future of mobile computing and you’re sure to think of the tablet and the smartphone. Increasingly powerful mobile devices are already capturing market share for business and consumer users. Morgan Stanley estimates that consumer PC usage has dropped 20% since 2008. That’s a trend that’s very likely to continue.

Most companies have taken two approaches to their mobile engagement strategy: the app and the web browser. Most marketers today are really “app happy,” creating simpler search-and-buy experiences using mini applications written for iOS and Android. Apps aren’t just about simplifying the experience, however; they account for the fact that how people “interact” with mobile devices is different than the mouse/keyboard experience they have with laptops and desktops.

That’s why it’s all the more important that companies rethink their mobile browser design. It’s more than redesigning for a smaller screen or whether a platform can handle flash. What’s needed is a complete re-think of how people move through a website using two fingers. Tablets make users think product “catalog” or “magazine” which means we need to reconsider the ways people interacted with paper that go further back into their physical habits than new techniques like pinch or swipe. That requires redesigning features we’ve taken for granted for years in the world of web design dominated by a mouse and keyboard. Here are a few that quickly come to mind:

  1. Back/forward. Most browsers place the back and forward buttons in the upper left of the screen, duplicating the desktop placement habits consumers have come to rely upon. Yet holding your smartphone or tablet often involves placing a thumb or grip across the upper left corner of the device. Web designers must rethink navigational design to eliminate the urge to use the browser’s back/forward features at all, incorporating other middle-of-the-screen or right-side column methods for consumers to move through content. If the tablet looks like a magazine, then turning the page needs to happen on the side edges, not the top of the screen.
  2. Login / Forgot Password links. Most of us take for granted that the “forgot your password” link will appear directly beneath the “login” or “submit” button on registration-required sites. But users who “tap” with an adult-sized finger will often find themselves transported to the “forgot” page rather than completing their log-on. The link is simply too close. Why not move it to a more separated space?
  3. Iconographic confusion. Simply put, some sites have designed navigational images that look too much like the browser features. An example is Facebook’s upper-left icons, which look very much like the iPad’s Safari buttons in the same area. Users often end up in the “new window” screen when they’re actually aiming for the Facebook messages / notifications buttons. Navigational buttons should be much more distinct.
  4. Rotational chaos. Depending upon the content, users switch between landscape and portrait mode on their mobile devices. But some designers have yet to think about the layout of content when the switch happens, leaving large graphics or ads to completely distort text layouts or require users to scroll (swipe) and zoom (pinch) excessively while navigating. Design should anticipate common rotation motions, and accommodate them without requiring too much activity by visitors.
  5. Social Connections. Nothing is more frustrating than when a website requires multiple pop-ups and logins to share content socially. A typical example is how news sites use Twitter in a browser. Unlike the Facebook “Like” button, which lets user share, with comments, without leaving the page, most Tweet buttons pop open a new window, require authentication, then close the window. On moderately cheap mobile smartphones, that can be a slow, laggy experience that users will simply cancel rather than complete.
There are lots of other design concepts that have to be rethought to take advantage of consumers’ increasing usage of mobile devices. It would be a mistake to simply rely upon app development, rather than redesign website code, because at some point, users reach app-icon saturation and return to their trusted, simpler web-browser with bookmarks. Successful mobile engagement not only needs to simplify the surfing experience, but consumer how someone would flip through the site – like an old printed catalog – with two fingers and still be enticed to make a purchase.