Mobile tipping points

October 14th, 2015 by Steve Curati

The Metro Photo Competition 2015 has been live for a couple of weeks now. Already, the big revelation has been the massive increase in mobile traffic since last year. The following article, on how that’s likely to affect our work in the future was originally published on Medium:

With hindsight, the moment was as inevitable as death and taxes (unless you’re Facebook, of course). And yet when it happens, you still feel a small pang of wow. Yes, we’ve recently seen more than half the traffic on one of our online platforms is from mobile.

Within DIAS, we’ve preached mobile-first for years. We’ve thought about mobile from the sketch and prototype stages upwards and made everything responsive as a matter of course.

And yet, when it came to it, if we’re being honest, the ‘core user’ in our minds for most projects was using a laptop. That’s not through stubbornness, or because we’ve had our heads in the sand, but because that’s what the analytics have told us. We’ve been designing experiences that work for all, but work a bit better for the majority of our users, who happen to be on desktops.

We’ve always strived for a mobile optimised experience, but unfortunately pragmatics and budget constraints usually mean that some strategic either-or decisions need to be taken and some use cases prioritised. Up till now, in most cases these decisions have come down in favour of the desktop user.

But not anymore.

We’ve been working with Metro International on metrophotochallenge.comfor the last four years. The photo competition runs for six weeks every autumn. It’s a whirlwind of an event, with upwards of 120,000 entries in that short time.

The competition’s short but hyperactive life lets us very clearly benchmark and measure differences in user behaviour year on year as snapshots. Of course we’ve noticed mobile use increase every year, but I don’t think we were quite prepared for the extent of the flip this year.

For example, in Brazil, which is one of Metro International’s biggest markets, mobile traffic has leapt from under 40% last year to closer to 70% this year. That’s a massive jump. And the implications are massive too.

The user journeys — from how users access the platform, to how they behave on the site, to where they go and what they do afterwards — are utterly different. It’s a big wake-up call.

When you know that not just a significant portion, but a majority of users are accessing your service through a phone, it changes your mindset in a powerful way. And right now the limitations feel liberating.

So, from now on, when we say ‘mobile-first’ we genuinely mean mobile first. Promise!