What "Design For Mobile First!" Really Means

It's been three months since we published "Mobile Is The New Face Of Engagement," and we've learned a lot by listening to CIO customers and industry professionals talk about the stories and strategy of mobile engagement.

The thing that leaves people scratching their heads is the mantra, Design for mobile first! "What does that mean, exactly?," they ask. "Is it about user interface design?" The industry answer is that it's about user experience design, but that's not quite right. Design for mobile first! is really about business design. Let's start with a thought experiment to re-imagine what's possible on a touchscreen device:

Imagine that your service is in your customer's pocket at all times. Imagine what you could do with that honor.

You could serve your customers in their moments of need. You could use data from device sensors and your own data to understand their context, the time of day, where they are, what they did last time, what they prefer, even their blood pressure, weight, and anxiety level. You could design your mobile experience to be snappy, simple, and built around an "action button" to (you guessed it) help them take the next most likely action.

With the right data and predictive analytics, you could anticipate your customer's next move and light up the correct action button before they even know they need it. You could serve them anywhere at any time. Not just give them self-service mobile access to your shrunken Web site or forms-based transaction system, but truly serve them by placing information and action and control into their hands.

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We're All Lean Startups Now

Eric Ries' Lean Startup started on a blog, became a best-selling book, and is now a thriving global movement. (There's a slick overview of the evolution here.) Despite the title, and some of Ries' arguments, its popularity can't be attributed merely to the relentless startup mania and the armies of 20-year-olds burning white-hot with dreams of instant Instagram billions.

In the book, Ries defines a startup as "A human institution designed to create a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty."

He allows that anyone leading such an endeavor should be considered an entrepreneur, whether s/he's a product manager working with a team of 100s at GE or in a garage with angel funding. And yet he does attempt to exclude "most businesses -- large and small alike" on the basis that they don't "confront situations of of extreme uncertainty." He continues:

"To open a new business that is an exact clone of an existing business all the way down to the business model, pricing, target customer, and product may be an attractive economic investment, but it is not a startup because its success depends only on execution."

The problems is that Ries' characterization of the execution-centric business applies fully to only one very particular kind of undertaking -- namely, franchises -- and not to "most businesses." (Moreover, even if the success of, say, a new Taco Bell is largely a matter of sticking to plan, I can assure you that the bright men and women at Yum Brands (which owns Taco Bell, KFC, and Pizza Hut) are working feverishly (and successfully) to constantly innovate and respond to new challenges across their global consumer touchpoints as well as internal employee experiences.)

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