Mobile design brings with it numerous challenges. From performance to form factor to platform/OS fragmentation, there are numerous barriers companies must leap if they want to build a successful mobile app.
But is mobile design failure an inevitable fact of life? According to Dave Morin, the founder and CEO of Path, the answer is yes.
Speaking at VentureBeat's MobileBeat 2012 conference, Morin recounted Path's early days and stated "The way you should think about mobile is that your first version’s probably going to fail. Path today has some 2m-plus users," despite an embarrassing privacy flub earlier in the year, but according to Morin, "The first version of Path was 70 percent a failure."
There were several reasons for this. For one, Path's designers were apparently more fluent in web than mobile, and they designed a complex app sporting numerous features spread across multiple tabs and screens. That, perhaps not surprisingly, didn't work, and 20 iterations later, after collecting feedback and focusing on what users were actually using their app for, Morin and his team had a much more focused and simple version of Path.
There's a difference between FAIL and room for improvement.
Path's launch-and-iterate approach is not an uncommon one. Designing the perfect application is difficult, if not downright impossible -- whether on mobile or the web. But does that mean one should expect a mobile app to essentially fail at first? Fortunately not, as there's a huge difference between a design fail and a design that simply requires improvement.
In the mobile realm, many companies make the same mistake as Path: they design their mobile applications like they would web applications. And for plenty of reasons, including the fact that there are a lot more designers out there with significant web design experience than mobile design experience.
But that doesn't mean that Path's initial path is one that every company must follow. Mobile design best practices are being established, there are a growing number of designers with mobile chops, and trying to build a sophisticated app that does a lot of things and requires complex interactions (instead of a simple app that does one or two things really, really well) is a mistake that can be avoided.
Put the right people of the job and avoid basic mistakes and designing a good mobile application becomes a lot like designing a good web application: you can't expect you'll get it 100% right the first time, but doing more things right than wrong is an achievable goal.