Studies show that corporate websites are for the most part not designed for their usability on smart phones. Some companies provide native applications that users can install on the smart phones, but this is not a panacea. This situation is likely to get worse with an increasing range of devices and platforms. What’s needed is more emphasis on the benefits of the Open Web Platform and responsive design techniques as a basis for applications that work effectively across desktop PCs, tablets, smart phones, connected TVs and so forth. Web technologies reduce the cost and increase the reach, avoiding the need to learn new programming languages and SDKs for each platform, and saving time and money by avoiding the overheads of native app stores. However, responsive design can be a little tricky to master and there is a need for improved awareness of best practices and for better design tools.
As part of my work for the EU FP7 Serenoa project, I have been studying ideas for a new breed of design tools based upon model-based techniques. The starting point is to agree on the business requirements, to map these into domain and task models, and to use these to automaticaly generate rough design proposals for each broad category of device. The designs can then be reviewed and adjusted as needed. For this to work, the scope for a given category of device needs to be matched to the context of use. For smart phones, the screen is smaller, and users tend to be highly task oriented, necessitating a design focusing on a specific task. On the desktop, there is greater freedom, so designs can address a broader range of purposes.
The architecture and technical means to address this are covered in a talk I am presenting in the Developer Track at the WWW2013 conference. The approach is essentially a collaborative expert system that searchs for designs that are consistent with the changes made by human designers through a direct manipulation interface. Some changes only effect a given category of devices, but other changes may have broader repercussions, effecting the domain and task models. This is very much a work in progress, and you are welcome to view the slides and follow up on the background. My hope is to inspire tool vendors to rise up to the challenge of responsive design and help realize the potential of the Open Web Platform to delivering apps and services to a broad range of devices.
Finally, I would like to thank my co-presenter Vivian Motti of the Université catholique de Louvain for her help.