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Speaking at the Healthcare Experience Design on Monday, Josh Clark, founder of Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Global Moxie, debunked a list of myths that mHealth developers would be wise to avoid.
Clark, whose firm bills itself as specializing in "design strategy and user experience for a mobile, multiscreen world," sought to help designers and developers steer clear of some of the "pitfalls of the last few years" as the market for smartphones, tablets and apps has exploded.
[Related: Todd Park praises galaxy of innovative apps.]
Different platforms and screen sizes and network capabilities mean that "mobile's pretty exciting, but it's also a huge pain," Clark joked.
Also complicating things is the so-called "anthropology" of mobile tech users. There's a "range of mobile cultures," he said; "lots of mobile mindsets." He was talking about consumers in general, but the same can be said for clinicians and other caregivers, with their many different needs.
To avoid the risk of making "patronizing" or "dumbed-down" apps, Clark spotlighted these seven myths, and suggested that by avoiding them, developers will have a much better chance of creating useful and exciting apps that healthcare professionals will actually use.
1. Users are always rushed and distracted. Mobile isn't just "on the go," of course, said Clark. It's also "on the couch." (And sometimes – according to one survey he spotlighted, to much laughter – "on the throne," so to speak.) But assuming that users are too busy to appreciate good content can lead to stripping out useful features, down to the bare bones, he said. "Don't arbitrarily remove content."
2. Mobile should be "less." Relatedly, it's a myth that mobile sites should be more bare-bones than their desktop counterparts, said Clark, noting that 25 percent of mobile Web users only use mobile Web. "As we do everything on our phones, and sometimes only on our phones, don't confuse device context with user intent," he said. As clinicians increasingly come to embrace mobile devices, "don't limit functionality because of screen size."
3. Complexity is a dirty word. People don't want dumbed-down applications, said Clark. They want "uncomplicated" applications. A good app might have guts and functionality that's complex, yet still be "comprehensible." As a funny example, he showed two imaginary iPhone apps that might help a pilot fly a plane. One showed a virtual rendering of a cockpit's many gauges and gizmos. The other had just two buttons: "FLY" and "LAND." It's important to know your audience and their needs, he said. And to remember that no matter what they are, "in a mobile interface, clarity trumps density."
[Related: HIT crowdsourcing picks up, VCs eye winners.]
4. Extra tabs and clicks are evil. In the olden times, when an Internet page might take 45 seconds to load, this made sense: making extra work for your users was bad. But with 4G speeds all but eliminating that concern, it's alright to broaden the experience. Healthcare has taken to mobile technology with such passion because of the limitless and conveniently accessible knowledge it represents. "If the information is readily available, and fulfilling, an extra tap is OK," said Clark.
5. You've got to have a mobile website. "Design something that will look good on any platform," said Clark. Don't have separate mobile sites because there's no such thing as a "mobile Web" – URL stands for universal resource locator, after all. First there were desktops, then laptops, then smartphones, then tablets. Who knows what's next? "Build a common back-end that can support any interface," he said.
6. Mobile is about apps. It's not. "An app is not a strategy. ... It's just an app," said Clark. As clinicians expect to be able to access information in the office or at the point of care, it's important that content be "agnostic about platform machinations." Users "expect our content to flow and be wherever we are," he said. "You can't start from scratch and design for every platform."
7. "CMS and API are for database nerds." Clark quoted user experience designer Ethan Resnick: "Metadata is the new art direction." In other words, content design – the way it appears on a doctor's desktop computer, or on his or her smartphone – is affected nowadays by back-end folks, and the filters and parameters they devise, to a degree it wasn't before. Content itself is what's being repurposed, not just design, so it's key for designers to know how it all works together.