Enterprise mobility is more than just designing for small screens

Last year after running one of my full-day enterprise mobility workshops, I received an email from an organisation about mobile design.

They indicated they were redesigning their corporate timesheet application, as part of a broader HR project.

A wireframe had already been created for the browser version of the application, which looked something like this:


(This is a simplified version of the layout, which I’ve created for the sake of clarity.)

They sent the wireframe through to me, in order to ask the following questions:

  • What are the best practices for presenting tables on mobile devices?
  • What is the best approach for fitting this design into the small screen of a mobile device?

A quick glance at the wireframe above, and it’s clear that it’s not about how to fit this complex design onto a small screen. More fundamental changes are required!

Delivering a mobile-friendly design?

The starting point is to consider what we mean by a “mobile device”.

If we’re talking about a tablet, then the wireframe as shown would “fit”. But the small controls would be difficult and clunky to use on a touchscreen. So perhaps the approach is to create a responsive design for the application which will adapt the design to match the specific characteristics of the tablet being used.

When it comes to a phone, however, a responsive design still won’t work. Maybe we need a rethink, to create a truly mobile-friendly design, along the following lines:


This is still not the right answer! All we’ve done is replicate the same application onto the mobile device, without considering the  context of use.

Rethinking the business process for mobility

If staff have their mobile device with them throughout the week, a completely different approach can be taken. A cursory search of “timesheet apps” on the Apple App Store shows what this might look like:


TimeSheet - IS -, by Virtual Communications Corporation

TimeSheet – IS -, by Virtual Communications Corporation

Timesheet, by Jumping World Studios Ltd

Timesheet, by Jumping World Studios Ltd

Here, instead of filling out the timesheet at the end of the week, the staff member can simply “check in” and “check out” during the day. This is radically easier for all involved.

While simplistic, this example shows that mobile design must go beyond touch and small screens, to take full advantage of mobile devices. This allows processes and activities to be transformed, now that staff can work with the device in the field, rather than filling in applications  when they get back to a desk.

(PS. I’m not saying that the App Store solutions are the right approach in all cases. That will depend on the specifics of the organisation and the process. But you get the idea!)

There’s still a lot to learn about designing for an enterprise mobility, but it’s an exciting road ahead!

James Robertson
James Robertson is the Managing Director of Step Two, the global thought leaders on intranets, headquartered in Sydney, Australia. James is the author of the best-selling books Essential intranets, Designing intranets and What every intranet team should know. He has keynoted conferences around the globe. (Follow him on Twitter or find him on Google+)