Bandwidth Mediator: Job description for the mobile emerging future

Google’s announcement that they will re-frame the way they assess the viability of a website to take the size of each page into consideration is not only a clear signal of the mobile first emerging future we long dreamed about but also huge slap in the face for communication designers everywhere.

No, I’m not talking about responsive design or m.websites — that shift has been ongoing for quite some time now, as anyone who follows mobile trends knows.

I’m saying this means rethinking everything and anything designed to be served via the interwebs.

My first slap in the face

Now I’ve been writing posts for some 10 years now and something happened a few weeks ago that opened my eyes to this whole new world we now must consider. My hosting service emailed me in the middle of the night saying I’d run out of bandwidth and they were raising the limit. That’s monthly bandwidth. In just one afternoon, they had served 4 times my average monthly usage. Ouch and oops.

It turned out to be a perfect storm. Not only had a post gone viral through someone’s Facebook link (Yay!) but my oversight and inexperience with constraints on connectivity meant that one page was 30 MB in size! I had to go back and fix all the images before we were able to get things back under control.

Bandwidth exclusion or barriers to communication?

My second slap in the face happened last night. I was trying to see the data that the World Bank was gleefully sharing on their just concluded global study on financial inclusion. There was an infographic. It struggled to open on my browser although I was on a heavy duty laptop and not a smartphone. I tried a few times before I gave up and downloaded the file directly to my hard drive only to discover it was 8MB in size. What were they thinking?

It was at least A3 in length, and kept shimmering in and out of visibility as I tried to scroll down. One assumes that the function of an infographic is to rapidly convey complex data in an easily palatable manner. Much design thinking goes into its layout and visualization. But now, just as much thinking by designers will have to be invested in figuring out how best to serve up information to an audience accustomed to micro bits and mobile bandwidths.

If messaging apps and micro blogging sites are indeed the future of information sharing and consumption, then design must think critically about easily digested forms of information. Otherwise any number of beautifully designed visuals and lovingly laid out reports will go unseen and unread.

Information intermediaries to mediate across bandwidths

Already I find myself curating information based on bandwidth for The Prepaid Economy’s feeds, both on Tumblr as well as Twitter. The vast majority of the hits to my blog these days are either from mobile sites eg. m.facebook, or by the way of smartphones and browsers such as Opera. I don’t expect my audience to have the time or bandwidth to access large files such as PDFs or Powerpoints and this has changed the way I link to and serve up information.

Young people active in new media spaces inform me that their peers seek quick snippets of easily grasped information served in a clear and concise manner. Now information designers of all stripes must begin to consider this a new design constraint the next time they save a file full of bandwidth hogging images.

Niti Bhan has been opinionating on design for some of the most demanding customer segments on the planet for a decade. She has a particularly obsessive interest with the prepaid business model for mobile airtime and data and its implications for the design of services and business models.