As I write this blog post on my 13” Macbook Pro Retina laptop in a local coffee shop, I can count 12 different screen sizes that people are using to consume information. Just so you know, four of those screens are mine: an iPad Air, iPhone 6, Pebble Smartwatch and my laptop. I wish I could say that this coffee shop was trendy enough that I only saw Apple computers and phones but really the only common denominator by a small margin is that everyone has a smartphone.
My point, if you haven’t picked it up yet, is that it’s getting harder and harder to guess what type of device – let alone screen size – someone will use to interact with your content. Back in 2012, Google did a study on screen usage and concluded that most people use an average of 3 different screen combinations each day. I’m willing to bet this number increased significantly in the past 2 years. So what is a savvy marketer to do? Start planning every campaign to work on 37 screen sizes? Not exactly, but the good news is I have a few things that can make that process easier.
Make Design Decisions Based on People, Not Devices
When trying to decide which devices or screen sizes to cater to, you should always assess your target audience. Knowing your target audience and their demographics will help you to make sure you leverage the right screen size or mix of screens to get the most visibility of your message. We are now seeing research that says people move fluidly from device to device. Many people will start an action on their phone and complete it on a different device later, like performing a price comparison in-store and completing the purchase on their desktop later.
Think About Interaction Times and Actual Device Usage
After you have defined your target audience, think about how they typically interact with various devices in the digital realm. By thinking through these interactions and the time it takes to perform them on different devices, you can make design decisions to best cater to that screen size. Apple judges the usability of different devices by considering how many minutes or seconds a person will use an app. For example, if you predict that someone will use your website on a desktop for 5-10 minutes, they will most likely only use it for a few minutes on mobile, and then even less, say seconds on a smartwatch. This means that desktop apps can be most complex, and that mobile and smartwatch apps should be much more simple. Plan the design for the use and make it snappy.
Browse the Web on My Wrist? Never!
The next brave new world is definitely on the wrist. Smartwatch popularity is growing rapidly as we have more and more companies vying for our attention. Right now most smartwatches function as extensions of our phone’s notifications, but before too long people will use them to research or find more information about a company or business. So how do you show someone you are the right person when you have a 2 inch circle for your content? The key to any screen is the most important thing to convey — your brand.
What About Websites on Big Screens?
Just about every screen size is getting “bigger” in relation to their previous sizes. Mobile phones are now closer to tablets, tablets are growing into laptops. We are also seeing a burst of new desktop monitors that are trying to claim every new form of HD possible with terms like Ultra HD, Retina, 4K, and even Retina 5K. This means that as digital designers we now have to make sure that things look their best on both tiny and jumbo devices. This can affect a lot of things, especially load times. Again, create a plan based on how people are using your site and serve up the right experience.
Designing for All Sizes
If you have a diverse audience and can’t figure out which device they are using, make sure that your site responds to a variety of devices. It is becoming more and more important to have a responsive website design that changes the visual presentation of your content on each device. Responsive website design is also very important for SEO — Google favors sites with responsive web design.
Test them All or At Least the Most Popular Ones
There is ultimately no replacement for physically testing things on the actual devices. I keep a stash of the most popular devices and screen sizes on hand so that I can test the experience on each. This ensures that it not only looks good at the right size but also “feels” right on that device. Design for the actual interaction and the end user and you will always win.