The Bob Parable: The Myth of the Mono-Device User

Bob Consumer likes to read the news throughout the day and to find articles himself. He refuses to rely on social media feeds and is middle aged, but tech savvy and familiar with using the internet.

Imagine designing an interface that would allow Bob to easily get his news.

One more detail about Bob: he is obsessed with authentic Italian thin crust pizza made in wood burning ovens.

What does Bob’s pizza preferences have to do with creating an interface for him to access the news?

Well, it means that Bob spends a lot of time in restaurants accessing the news on his phone. But Bob also likes to use his tablet to keep up to date with the news while cooking pizzas in his own pizza oven. Once his pizzas are cooked, Bob eats in front of his desktop computer and simultaneously checks for more breaking news stories. Bob also never became dedicated to one software ecosystem. He accesses the news on his android phone, iPad, and older windows 7 computer.

Bob is not an anomaly. Consumers are increasingly accessing the internet from multiple devices with different operating systems. The problem is that people like Bob expect the sites they use to behave and contain the same functionality no matter how they are accessed. For some websites, such as news aggregators and blogs, responsive design can ensure a user has a familiar experience across all of his or her devices. But what about complicated business web applications or retail websites? Simply replicating the design of such sites on mobile devices does not consider the limitations and different interactions that mobile form factors require.

Developers and UX designers have been aware of this issue and know to take it into account when creating interfaces, but the problem is not going to go away. Android is fragmented, there are multiple popular versions of iOS, and even with Chrome’s rise in popularity users still utilize a variety of desktop browsers.

Given this situation, should software development teams just give up and design for one use case? Of course not, but they should invest the time to conduct user research and analyze their results to determine a proper software framework to use. By deeply understanding customers’ behaviors and device and operating system preferences, development teams can focus their energy on catering software to fit their users’ multi device and operating system lives. If the majority of users access an established product through desktop browsers, it may not be worth the development costs to transition the product to a responsive framework. Contrastingly, designers of desktop focused interfaces who understand that their users must complete a few essential tasks on mobile devices would be wise to alter their codebase to provide a limited mobile solution. Once an interface can handle core users’ multiple device and operating system work flows, development can focus on handling other auxiliary tasks.

As new technologies are created there will be even more fragmentation. This is already evident in the emerging virtual reality field. Conducting user research to understand the “Bobs” of the world and using those findings to drive development decisions will ensure that your product continues to meet users’ multi device needs.

Key Take Aways:
– Users have multiple devices with different operating systems
– Designing for every device and operating system combination is impossible, but making a consistent experience is essential
– Researching a product’s core users will provide insight into how to properly design interfaces to meet their needs
– Use a software framework that functions the same on all devices and operating systems

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