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Perhaps responsive design is only a passing fad, but it does shed some light on how we build the digital tools we use, and more importantly, why we build them that way.

 

Mobile Web or App

The choice to build a responsive website or mobile app is one of the problems often faced by organizations who try to adjust their sites for mobile devices. Not every piece of content on a 13 inch laptop screen will be able to fit on an iPad or iPhone screen, so choices have to be made about what content is most relevant, and what customers are most likely to do with it.

Whether or not an organization really needs to rebuild its website into one that dynamically adjusts to whatever size screen it is being displayed on should be a business decision. As long as a company's strategy is one where rebuilding a application with responsive design in mind makes the most business sense, that company should go right ahead and do it.

One type of application many likely don't think of when it comes to responsive design is analytics. Dashboards and visualizations are a popular feature in the business intelligence systems of today, and like any other app, they are often viewed on a tablet or smartphone. 

Designing as Problem Solver

In business, people are always trying to solve a problem, and this is the same approach companies must take with responsive design, Dwight deVera, SVP of arcplan, an analytics provider, said in an interview. deVera has been working on future proofing dashboards, he said, and he told us a bit about his mobile app responsive design best practices.  

For mobile BI, we've found that responsive design is best," deVera said. "We call our philosophy DORA. Design once, run anywhere."

One of the biggest shifts for customer experience on mobile devices is in navigation, and that is where deVera takes many of his design cues, he said. Before launching the DORA initiative, a Netflix like navigation experience was the goal, deVera said. On a mobile device, navigation needs to be simple and intuitive, and transitioning apps to this format is usually a stop and start affair.

Many of those who have become accustomed to traditional BI systems are used to a menu based navigation, deVera said, and getting them to change what they are so used to usually requires a bit of a nudge.

We call the menu button the escape hatch," deVera said. 

Instead of a separate menu for navigation, panels are made to be dynamic, and once tapped, can be navigated like any other touch application. Think of it like the Windows Phone live tiles format where each tile, when pressed, goes right into a panel, deVera said -- there is no need to go scrolling around. After all, there is no mouse to go scrolling around with in the first place!

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arcplan's DORA aesthetic in practice.

Searching for Answers

The other main way to encourage touch based navigation is through a simple search box, deVera said. There's no need for a separate menu when a search box is all that's needed, something that is painfully obvious to younger workers, especially, he noted.

Search becomes especially important when there are larger volumes of information involved, something that is especially true for analytics apps. In this case, search becomes doubly important. It's needed to help navigate through large information stores, but it's also the best way to replace a separate menu that takes up valuable screen real estate.

Any mobile application, whether for shopping, collaboration or social media can heed this approach, and the focus doesn't always have to be on navigation. That happens to be arcplan's focus, but for whatever kind of app that is being considered, there has to be a strategy in place to determine what the focal point is. For a shopping app, for example, the main focus may be how to get people to add things to the shopping cart. All the design elements then should be geared toward that.

Another way arcplan deals with analytics particularly on mobile devices, is by making dashboards more personalized. While BI apps are organically data intensive, most people don't look at all the data there, deVera said. They look at a handful of the most important metrics they need everyday, and so bringing those most used items to a dashboard also does a good job of simplifying navigation.

Again, this goes for really any app. The most important things are the ones that should be in view, and the most helpful information should be floated to the top.

The Importance of the Grid

Mobile viewing of content should be thought of in terms of what is most needed to be seen, what deVera calls the Feng shui of BI. Think of a grid layout on a laptop or desktop monitor, and if there are 9 squares in that grid, they have to be shrunk down for a smaller screen. At some point, that no longer becomes feasible because each grid is simply too small. That means fewer squares.

Something will have to be moved, and that is a business decision that simply has to be made. If important items are missing from view because they weren't properly designed for, people viewing that content are not going to be happy. In the BI world, apps themselves are ubiquitous, and that means any new customers are coming to arcplan with an existing system already in place, and they may not be especially thrilled with what they are using, deVera said.

Responsive design is often exciting to those customers precisely because it is a true evolution of the dashboards and visualizations that have been in place for years in the analytics world, he said.

For other types of applications like banking or email for example, responsive design many not be the best option. Like we noted at the top, it has to be a business decision, and that has to be made at the strategic level, not the technology level. Let us know in the comments if responsive design has come up in strategic meetings at your organization or if that conversation is happening more at lower levels.