Posted by Blast. July 2012

Mobile first is not a fringe movement or a great idea. It’s a future that’s already here. The sooner your brand embraces it, the better positioned you’ll be. Just ask the web’s giants. As the valley embraces the mantra, today’s biggest players are taking pains to make it clear that they’re on board.

The Guardian tries everything, measures everything, learns from everything, and optimizes everything. They’ve got an app for iPhone/iPad/Windows Phone/ Android, access for kindle, for mobile, via Flipboard, the Eyewitness photography series, even mobile crosswords. For a while, other media outlets and analysts were unsure of what to make of it—was the veteran paper leaping onto every available channel as a stunt, or were they serious about making light—at least in terms of mobility—of the news?

Image by George Wong

“Our aim is to improve the service for all of our audience who have smartphones with an accessible service optimized for smaller screen sizes and slower connection speeds, for anyone using other handsets,”

said Adam Freeman, The Guardian’s director of consumer media. 
The newspaper’s first mobile push launched in late 2009 (much ahead of the curve relative to other newspaper brands) and in mere months, it became the top British newspaper mobile site with an average of over half a million page impressions each day. In June of this year, was crowned website of the year and scooped four other prizes at the 2012 Online Media awards, with judges at the ceremony praising the newspaper’s website as ‘the first and the best’:

“The Guardian set the pace early on and continues to dominate the newspaper website field, having developed new live-blogging tools and hitting more than four million unique browsers every day.”

Not everything the newspaper has done has worked. But The Guardian is certainly managing to hit (and be, competitively speaking) a moving target. The paper’s strategy, though appearing to be an exercise in jumping into everything feet-first, is actually what strategists recommend: think big, test first, fail fast, and move on.

“It’s not just about mobile marketing, but creating a mobile ecosystem that’s optimized for participation,”

says Blast Mobile Strategist Stephanie Griffiths.

“And you don’t know that you’ve got it nailed until you try. It’s a privilege to get direct access to the consumer—if you aren’t useful to them, they won’t come back. But the only way to be useful is to try, and then optimize, and then try again.”

Facebook has made mobile design a major priority and backed it up with dollars, as demonstrated by the billion that the company just spent to own Instagram. The same is true of Twitter, and even of Intuit. Pioneering brands are on board, from Coca Cola’s organizational dedication to figuring out its mobile strategy to Gilt Groupe’s priority access for mobile customers and Starbucks’ mobile pay app. These brands know what analysts already know: that mobile is the closest connection we have to our bank accounts. Our phones are becoming our wallets.

Image by Shelly Kramer

The shift has already happened—the truth of where all we need to go can be found through a 320×480-pixel window. That window has never been more magical than the in-development Google Goggles, a visual search engine that will change the face of retail by allowing mobile phones to submit photos for an answer to Where did that come from? I want one. Machine-to-machine (M2M) messaging through players like vodafone will bring the same spirit of synchronicity and convenience to any device, computer, or even TV. The healthcare industry is experimenting with apps that go beyond wellness to the administering and optimizing of actual medical treatment. This degree of cleverness represents new and unprecedented waters from a multitude of angles: in the coming year or two, we’ll face tricky questions of privacy and government regulations as our capability outpaces our understanding of its ripple effect. But the brands testing those waters now are the ones who will end up with a headstart.

Image by Kellex

To stay convenient, relevant, and useful on mobile devices is to stay close to the consumer wallet. For designers, mobile first is our growing-up. It is design as needs-meeting rather than design as How To Fill Space. It is an appreciation of constraints rather than a begrudging acceptance of them. And as soon as those constraints begin to feel like second nature, they’re likely to change again, as devices advance, networks become more robust, and prices get pushed lower.

“With smarter and cheaper technology, we can finally fulfill on the dream of interfaces in almost any surface or environment,”

says Adrian Chong, Blast Director of Interaction Design.

“We carry personal data everywhere, and it communicates to live systems that reframe contextual information. Now, we’ve got the most anticipatory interactions in history. The more closely we can design to mobile specifications, the better brands will be at usefulness, which is the currency of brand loyalty today.”