Designing experiences for multiple devices

As the use of multiple devices to research and buy products increases, we look at techniques to help you design for the total customer experience, rather than individual devices.

Research from Google last year suggests that around 14% of people use multiple devices to research a mobile phone purchase, 21% use a smartphone, desktop or tablet in parallel with the TV, and that these numbers are increasing.

Here is a typical scenario:

Ann’s oldest daughter wants her first mobile phone.   There’s so much choice… and her daughter has her own ideas about what she wants.  Ann started looking at work at her desktop computer over a sandwich.  She then checked a few of the links her daughter sent her on her phone on the way home.  And now, she’s sitting in front of the TV with her tablet trying to unpick the various contract and model options.

A responsive web design would ensure that the interface that Ann will interact with works well in each of the devices.  But what about the total impact that the use of the devices together has on her overall experience and purchase decision?

Because research projects often focus on only one channel or platform throughout the design and validation process, for example researching an on-line shop on its mobile platform, they can miss the important role of the mobile in the overall shopping process and its support for other platforms, such as its desktop counterpart.

Techniques that can help

There are techniques that can help to incorporate other platforms and channels into research.  Here are some we find particularly useful:

1. Storyboards
Storyboards are used for many purposes, from validating concepts to sparking ideas by stimulating the imagination.
As storyboards are narratives depicting the user’s experience from their point of view, they automatically integrate all the channels and platforms involved in the experience.  

In our example, it would be easy to illustrate how Ann tries to look for some information on the train to work, but has a poor connection, so finds some time at lunch to look at it, and then visits the shop in the shopping centre on Saturday, when she does the weekly shopping for the family.
Incorporating a story like this one during the testing of a responsive web design for an on-line shop will help to get not only the layout right but also the flow of the overall experience.

2. Customer journey mapping
This provides a visual description of how and when the user might access a company’s product including what their typical goals and motivations are at each stage.

3.  Video and animatics
Videos and VoxPops can be created from research to show the users’ own stories.  Relevant video clips from the research, short documentaries about the research and videos of scenarios can all be used as a starting point for discussion with users and stakeholders. 

Audiovisuals activate our imagination, and make it easier for us to relate to the users so we can discuss realistically the different aspects of the experience.

4. Role play and experiential theatre techniques
These can be used as a research technique, or to depict concepts and used as a brainstorming tool.  However, using this research technique only makes sense when exploring contextual elements of the story in multichannel experiences (e.g. mobile alerts based on location and context). There is no point on using role-play to validate a layout or the web design flow in a mobile device.

And in the future ?

As screen sizes become more complex and numerous a responsive web design approach will soon not be enough.  Wearables such as watches will need a new definition and layout design just for them.  They will also raise new challenges in terms of content. (e.g. does the user really want to check a website in his watch?, or would it play its part in the overall experience?)
Future developments where screens could be displayed anywhere and anytime mean we might be talking about ‘display spaces’ rather than screen sizes or devices, opening another world of content display and layout.
So incorporating multi device narratives in the user experience research, design and evaluation phases of a project will help us to keep an eye on our multichannel experience. It will help us see different channels not as separate parts of the experience but as complementary parts of the total customer experience.  Then we will be aiming to design a user experience that is enhanced by the value of each channel, so that the overall experience is more than the sum of its parts.


(This article was written for and  first time published at in May 2014)