educational

How Touched Are You?

Stephen Yagielowicz

If you run a website, whether or not it’s a mobile website, it’s almost certain that mobile users are accessing it; and likely doing so in rapidly increasing numbers. Many of these mobile users are using touch-sensitive devices, without a mouse or other means for interactive input, except for a finger or stylus.

This of course imposes additional design considerations on modern websites, where a mouse click is not the only form of input — and where some new factors come into play.

Although serving touch-enabled users adds an additional layer of complexity to the designer’s task, the process is eased through careful layout, CSS media queries and other techniques.

For example, when many designers think of size in relation to web design, they think of screen size or display resolution and the need to choose between fixed or fluid layouts to suit specific devices, displays and platforms — but with touch screen technology, size and scale play other important roles.

Navigational metaphors, such as buttons, may be many times larger than their desktop counterparts; which is an especially important consideration for fat-fingered users as well as other portions of the adult content market, which includes older consumers with failing eyesight, as well as surfers who may be impaired by drugs or alcohol while viewing porn.

In any case, making the target as big and clear as possible is vital; and consequently, other page elements, such as text and icons, must also be appropriately scaled.

Be sure to provide adequate spacing between buttons and other elements, as well.

While we’re on the subject of buttons, it’s important to note that CSS “hover” states (i.e., ‘a: hover’), are poorly supported by current touch screen devices; so this drastically complicates things like drop-down menus and non-obvious hyperlinks that depend upon a hover action to indicate that they are links, or to provide other functions, such as a pop-up help window, etc.

You may be able to mitigate many of these limitations through slick scripting, but it’s perhaps better to revisit (and reprioritize if necessary) your site’s navigational structure; simplifying top-level choices and relegating the least used links to a site map page, rather than relying upon drop-down boxes or other multi-level menu tools.

Image based drag-and-drop metaphors, along with touch gestures commonly used on Smartphones, such as a pinch or swipe of an iPhone’s screen, are particularly well suited to touch — as are contextual navigation elements dynamically generated based upon the user’s unique path through your site. This technique can dramatically streamline menu choices or other “housekeeping” overhead, such as unnecessary includes. For example, substituting navigational breadcrumbs for a full menu system while browsing subpages, speeds up and simplifies the user experience without harming functionality.

If it comforts you to think in absolutes, the iPad offers a 1024x768 display that should be a familiar developmental territory, that is well suited to a 960px grid layout and serves as much of a “one size fits all” approach today, as it has for a number of years now and is a comfortable fit on many touch enabled devices.

Beyond that approach, consider that most people are right-handed; and as such, will tend to grasp phones, tablets and other devices with their left hand — you may want to consider moving any typical left-of-page menu bars to the right side of your page, using conditional style sheets if desired.

Remember, many of these devices have both landscape and portrait viewing modes, so this too needs to be taken into consideration.

Although serving touch-enabled users adds an additional layer of complexity to the designer’s task, the process is eased through careful layout, CSS media queries and other techniques far beyond the scope of this article.

For now, it’s enough to raise awareness of the peculiar needs of this growing audience, and to offer you some proven techniques for better serving them. Stay tuned for more ….

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