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3 design principles for the mobile Web

October 26, 2011

KF Lai is CEO of Buzzcity

By KF Lai

With more than 5.3 billion mobile users worldwide and consumers spending an average of 9.8 hours on their mobile devices every week, it is no wonder that mobile campaigns are becoming ever more crucial for brands and advertisers.

The mobile applications market is forecast to earn $25 billion in revenue by 2015, from around $6.8 billion in 2010. Apps are undoubtedly a great way to engage audiences, whether by educating, entertaining or informing.

Based on all the campaigns and apps that we have developed and isolating the most reliable predictors of success in mobile, the following three design factors stand out:

1. Simplicity
When crafting mobile ad campaigns, your challenge is to hone your marketing message down to a clear and simple call to action that captures your intent. What do you want from mobile users? What will they get in return?

As for games, the most successful always provide varied game-play, balanced with easy-to-learn controls.

With apps, especially utilities, the winners are often those designed to accomplish a clearly defined, simple task.

It is no surprise that among the top grossing apps from download stores, you will always see a bunch of indie hits designed to one simple thing – say, turn your phone into a flashlight, help you boil the perfect egg, or provide a great alarm clock that plays MP3s.

There is a beauty and power in simplicity.

As legendary Apple designer Jonathan Ive says, great design “feels almost inevitable, it feels … un-designed, it feels almost like ‘Of course, it’s that way, I mean, why wouldn’t it be that way.”’

2. Uniqueness
The proposition that you make to a customer needs to provide a specific, singular benefit – over and above words, images and clever presentation.

The offer needs to be something that your competitors do not or cannot provide. This can apply either to the way in which you make the offer – a unique bundle of benefits or features that make the offer irresistible – or something inherent in the product itself.

Groupon appears to have suffered because it was so easy to imitate. Now, having been named the fastest-growing company in Web history, it needs to innovate, and do so fast, if it hopes to avoid becoming the fastest shrinking, too.

3. Relevance
For advertisers, if your product or service addresses a real customer need, you should already be armed with a pretty clear focus.

Aim to communicate that product benefit as clearly as possible, and the relevance will shine through.
The more direct you are the better. Do not fall into the trap of complicating your offer.

To take the example of a fast food outlet, just one word (“Hungry?”), targeted around lunchtime, can be exceedingly powerful. Especially when followed by a glimpse of a juicy hamburger.

For game and app developers, relevance is a significant challenge, and the single factor that will make you stand out in a crowded app store.

Resist the temptation to gain attention through wackiness, because there is already a graveyard of developers who have fallen into the abyss of wacky games.

Simply trust your instincts, stick with what you can do better than your competition, and provide something that your potential customers are looking for. If you can offer them what they need, while playing to your strengths, you are on the right track.

KF Lai is CEO of BuzzCity, Singapore. Reach him at

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