In IA Practice, Information Architecture
Summary: Viewing websites on a mobile platform creates challenges that user experience design is not equipped to handle—but information architecture can help.

The mobile revolution is over; the smart phones won. There are now nearly as many smart phones and tablets as desktops in the United States, and people are still buying them at a tremendous clip. Aside from the headaches of figuring out how to use them safely and responsibly, we think this is great news! Smart phones are one of the great pleasures of modern life.

Annual Internet Usage, by Platform

Annual Internet Usage, by Platform. By Manipande at wikimedia commons. Shared via the CC 3.0 License.

So now that we have them, what do we do with them? If you are responsible for making websites or interactive software, the question of mobile as part of your organization’s digital strategy comes up all the time. In fact you’ve probably grappled with this issue—and tried to solve it—at least once already. If you were unhappy with the results of your efforts to make your website ready for mobile use, you are not alone. The emergence of mobile creates problems and challenges that traditional development and user experience design are not equipped to handle.

This is because mobile devices exist in a unique space—outside of the desktop—and they exist in relation to other digital devices. In other words, the digital space of mobile is both unique and interconnected. If you’ve ever asked any of the following questions, you might want to talk to an information architect:

Does Our Mobile Website Help Us Reach Our Goals (revenue, customer acquisition, etc.)?

Another way to ask this is, “Why Should We Have a Mobile Site?” If your answer is something like “because we get mobile traffic,” you might want to stop and ask again. Smart phones are not tiny little desktop computers; they exist in an entirely different context and users accessing sites with them have entirely different needs. So the idea of just capturing the traffic isn’t enough. We figured out why we have websites for desktops, but significant thought and effort went into that understanding. Have you spent as much time asking that same “why” for your mobile users?

An information architect can help you discover that intent, then help you render it into usable designs for your mobile users that gets them closer to what they want as they user your digital spaces.

Why Do We See Lower Conversion Rates on the Mobile Website?

If your organization is typical, conversion rates from mobile users are much lower than those for desktop. Usually this is explained by the mental state of the users and when they are using the devices; they might be in a store, or in a waiting room, or somewhere else where their attention is divided. But have you ever confirmed that? And if that is the case, what would a conversion on mobile look like? What if the mobile site is just really hard to use and you’re leaving money on the table?

An information architect can help you discover the goal of any given user when they are trying to reach your site, identify the best digital spaces for realizing that, and then develop conversion metrics for that goal.

What Do Users Want to Do on Our Mobile Website?

If the answer is something similar to what they do when using a desktop, you may be missing some huge opportunities. The thing about smart phones is that they didn’t eliminate desktops; desktop usage remains steady in places where smart phones are growing. Instead, smart phones ADDED to the time that we spend on the Internet. More importantly, most sites are not seeing a drop in desktop traffic, but instead a rise in smart phone traffic as desktop traffic remains steady. In other words, your audience is growing, but your existing audience is also probably coming to your site using two different platforms.

If you’re responsible for making interactive software in the context of this entirely new digital experience, you basically are trying to figure out how to make sense of the old world and the new, as well as all the intersections between them. How do you architect something that is ONLY using a mobile platform? What do you get to exclude if you exclude mobile? Could you just do it in an app? When do you decide that you are architecting a digital space between desktop and mobile, how is that managed?

Relax. There is hope. Information architecture can help with a lot of this. This relationship of digital spaces, their connections, and their structure is a classic information architecture problem. At The Understanding Group, we describe this as choreography—or the movement of users from one space to another to achieve a goal. As Dan Klyn describes it, choreography is about anticipating the way users and information want to flow, and how to create structures that foster specific types of interaction and provide for change over time. This discussion is at the heart of the most interesting questions about the mobile revolution, and something that we can help you manage.


Do you want to talk about your digital strategy, or have questions about how information architecture could help improve your mobile site? Drop us a line! We’d love to hear about your challenges and see how we might help.

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