What could we learn about mobile from 90’s web design?
I have an apology to make.
In the late 90’s I used to make websites. Armed with a basic understanding of HTML, a blueberry iMac and a dodgy copy of Flash. I hit the web design industry just as everyone realised that the internet was something really interesting and useful and possibly, even ‘The Future’.
I used to turn up to prospective clients and tell them they ‘Needed’ a website. I used to tell them that it would be really easy to make a website because they had a brochure already and all we had to do was take that text put it online for them – they’d barely have to do anything. It could even look exactly like their brochure… but with buttons… and smaller pictures. They’d never have to have a brochure printed again, saving them lots of cash. Hell, I could even throw in an animated spinny logo as an intro at the front of their website ‘to make it more interactive’. I’d use Flash 3 and I’d take out the ‘Skip Intro’ button too if they liked so users HAD to watch it. Like I said, I really am so sorry.
I’m sorry to all those frustrated users. I’m sorry to all the companies who lost sales because the users didn’t care about the spinny logo they just wanted compelling content that worked well online. My only defence is that on the whole my intentions were good, I just didn’t really know better. But now I do.
Shortly after I started up the bubble burst and as a result clients and designers alike started asking tougher questions. They wanted to know why a website was useful, how it met their needs and, even more importantly the needs of the user. They finally began challenging each other to take a rather more thoughtful approach, wanting to use the strengths of the platform – searchable, updateable and connected.
When it comes to mobile for cultural organisations, I have a feeling we may be coming to that point again. Everyone ‘Needs’ an app. It’s easy. It’s the future. And all we need to do is move existing audio on to mobile phones and smartphone app and the visitors will flock to our sites. Now where have I heard that before?
I believe that mobile has a wealth of opportunity to offer cultural organisations; many of the behaviours, functions and interactions museums are looking to encourage directly map onto the types of thing mobile can offer. However, I have to confess I don’t believe that blindly re-hashing audio tours or entire websites is the way forward for very many organisations. Just as the company brochure became a downloadable pdf, what we are creating now will form part of the mobile offer but only a small part.
The good news is over the last couple of months there has been a wealth of mobile conferences, generating insights but more importantly questions, tough questions. I think only good can come from that.
So, what do you think will become the spinny logo of the mobile world? Ten years down the line what, as a sector, will we be apologising for? What are those tough questions we should be asking now?