Device optimisation is about accessing a website on one set up and fine-tuning the experience. It could be Internet Explorer 7 on a mediocre PC, the iPhone 4000, a generic and underpowered Android tablet, or a web-enabled HD 3D TV. Whatever the set up, ask: how can I make this one experience better?
The idea is not to build a website that only works on one device, it’s about taking a different perspective; looking at a website from a unique angle. Only then do we uncover hidden secrets.
The thing is, we’re so device-agnostic these days we forget that real users are only using one device at a time to access our websites. So when I talk about “device optimisation” what I’m really concerning myself with is real world one-to-one, user-on-machine experiences! How perverse.
If we spend the whole time developing a website from bottom to top — from the foundations upwards — we forget to look at it top-down, i.e. the user’s perspective.
It’s impossible to design and build a website with theoretical “best practices” alone. We have to consider the nuances (read: headaches) of individual browsers and devices common today. It’s simply a mindset which occasionally uncovers UX issues we can’t ignore. And though we apply a fix for the one device that highlighted the problem, others may benefit. Even ones that haven’t been manufactured yet.
Consider the time and effort we spend making websites work in IE6–9. Custom stylesheets; a progressive enhancement approach. We do this to avoid issues and to test functionality in older browsers, why not take the idea further?
When we use the latest in snazzy devices like an iPhone to optimise its individual experience we often bring others along for the ride. Because we’re building one website (for one web) it’s easy to check for any adverse side effects in less-abled browsers (and if need be we provide a tiered experience).
Exploring brand new and exciting web standards and features for new devices — despite sparse support at present — should be as important as supporting old and dying devices (if not more). The laggards drop off while the new have a whole life cycle to pass through.
Create an accessible and semantic backbone and then build the presentation layer with a healthy dose of device optimisation. Let’s face it, how many years does a website design last anyway?