More and more people are using more and more screens. Users expect to access information on all relevant screens. Everything needs to work across devices. Digital services are part of a whole ecosystem. They require a holistic strategy.
Together with Pascal Raabe, from the UI/UX studio ustwo™ I’m going to introduce six practical tips (in an article series) that can help you improve your own digital products and services by employing an effective multiscreen strategy.
- Think multiscreen
- Know your screens
- Put the user at the centre
- Context is King
- Multiscreen-ready layout and content
- Challenges are chances
This is the second article. (Note: This article has been slightly updated since its first publication, based on recent developments and insights.)
2) Know your screens
When we’re talking about screens, we’re really talking about devices. The screens we’re typically using on a daily basis can be classified into five device groups: smartphones, tablets, desktop or laptop PCs, smart TVs and smartwatches. It’s important to consider these groups, their properties, how they’re typically used, and how they can be combined.
The five device groups can be defined by their context of use, the way one interacts with the device or navigates the content, and by the main input method — for example remote control, gestures, mouse, keyboard, touch, or sensors. Further they can be described by their typical display size and the distance of the user to the screen.
Smartphones, for instance, have the shortest session duration and yet they’re the most used devices to begin a digital activity. This means that the majority of all online activity such as browsing, searching, shopping, watching videos, or social networking start on a smartphone and are continued on other devices — presumably because larger screens are easier to use. Google calls this “sequential device usage”. Smartphones are also the device class that is most often used in parallel with other screens.
We can assume that focussing on smartwatches, smartphones, tablets, laptops, and TVs is currently the most useful. However there is a number of other screens and devices that may become relevant for a multiscreen scenario — for example big screens, projection screens, in-car interfaces, or smart glasses. The Internet of Things may potentially connect every object with the internet and give it ‘smart’ capabilities.
There are various ways of combining multiple devices and screens. The three main categories of multiscreen ecosystems described by Avi Itzkovitch (respectively Michal Levin) are a useful distinction.
The user experience is similar and without contradiction across all screens. Google for instance offers a comparable search experience across all devices and applications. The individual devices are not necessarily connected.
Screens are combined, work together, are able to communicate and can influence one another. They are complementary and can control one another; an example is using a smartphone to remotely control the TV. The devices may also exchange information by shifting content between two or more screens. AppleTV and AirPlay allow users to shift videos from the small screen of an iPhone to the larger TV screen. The devices need one another, ie. multiple devices are required to make the experience complete.
This is the biggest challenge of Multiscreen Experience Design as it is a highly complex problem and requires extremely thorough research and analysis to make it work. In order to achieve a fluid and continuous experience across devices we have to consider various patterns and approaches as well as all relevant parameters — such as the device, user, and context of use. Screens could be used in parallel or information can flow between them. A ‘Read Later’ or ‘Watch Later’ service for example requires films and articles to be available and synchronised between devices, likely by storing content in a shared database in the cloud.
With the Multiscreen Experience Project we gathered and developed a number of patterns, methodologies, and insights and compiled them in a book. In this article series I introduce the most important aspects of a useful and user-friendly multiscreen offering.
Update (12/14/2015): If you’re more interested in the topic. My new English book “Multiscreen UX Design” is available sind 14th December 2015.
The described topic is mainly and detailed covered in chapter 2. You can use the code COMP315 for 30% off (incl. free shipping, worldwide).