Time as an asset in mobile development

User experience guidelines for mobile devices have become clearly defined in recent years. Developers have learned how to utilize the limits of a small screen size and prioritize content. Applications targeted at younger demographics (think SnapChat) are successfully leveraging intuitive interfaces for digital natives. There are not many impressive interfaces designed to utilizes time as a resource.

What is out there?

Read later apps touch on the idea of using your current attention to make you more intentional in the future. The notion of a bookmark lets you keep something for later, so you can return to it as needed. Services like Pocket, Instapaper, and Readability, effectively give people a infinite memory bank, where they can collect and store content they discover. This concept works well when used on mobile phones to provide access to content without an internet connection. Similarly, it can make it easy to discover content on one device, then access it on another later.

Time as a design element

Time is an important resource in designing a user experience. Resource value in screen real estate, color priorities, internet connection speed, and many other factors are already kept in mind. Time and its use for the future is not something that actively feel triggered to think about. Time, as a design element, could be used to direct users intelligently.

Current applications are constantly trying to one-up users for a little bit more time. They want to show you one more advertisement or find a hook to get you to come back one more time. Your inbox is bombarded with daily update emails, requests for browser notification access, and too many tracking pixels.

People don’t like distractions. Intentionally creating distractions is disrespecting the end user who makes a company even possible! What if platforms made a better effort at allowing their users to decide how frequently they wanted to engage? What if all the data crunching and analysis that is done to find common trends amongst high value users was used to create a high value experience for users that don’t want to spend their time budgeted for other services?

This is where using time as a design element starts to make sense.

Where it works

Email newsletters are a great to subscribe to a future time commitment for content. Users sign up to email newsletters because they like the content being produced. They are subscribing to the idea that they will get more of the same kind of content. The unspoken contract is that the email address, which is a door into the user’s attention, will be respected.

Email newsletters lose their value when the user’s inbox is overwhelmed with too many emails. Like real life mail, too much email goes unopened and ignored.

Monthly gatherings are another good example. A predetermined amount of time is being committed to a predetermined purpose, with an expectation of some predetermined experience. This is good. For a person who participates in a community, either on or off the internet, a budgeted length of time is great.

The goal here is not to come up with a system for creating a structure for predetermining how time is used. The goal is to come up with a solution for companies resort of attention grabbing.

Where it doesn’t work

The “save for later” services have some basic faults.

First, when the content goes into the bookmarking service, and into the “read later” display, the content producers lose access to the ad impressions/tracking needed to pay for the content. This has its obvious issues for the content producers and seemingly less obvious issues for the consumer. When content producers are not getting a return on investment for their product, they can’t continue producing content. The ads and tracking itself isn’t bad, its the way they are being implemented. Right now, it doesn’t work for the user and the producer.

Second, when the rate of saving content is higher than the rate of consuming content, the saved content is forgotten. People develop habits around bookmarking and categorizing bookmarked content. Most people aren’t sophisticated enough to create a process for consuming saved content, and eventually never do. Saving content without determining when it will be consumed is DOA.

Time as a design resource on mobile

With mobile devices in particular, time is a great design resource. Since user’s are forced to interact with one piece of content at a time, understanding how to leverage the mechanics of intentional delayed engagement is important. Content should be designed with the notion that it is not going to receive the full attention of a user. That doesn’t mean that it can’t at some future time.

What would incentivize companies to adopt time as a design resource?

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