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If designers thought they had it bad having to deal with multiple browsers, the past several years have made it clear: IE6 is a walk in the park.

Today, thanks to the rise of smart phones and tablets, designers are tasked with designing across a wide range of devices, many with different form factors, platform capabilities and hardware profiles.

The future is mobile, so not surprisingly, when it comes to building sites designed for mobile and tablet devices, many companies think of their web experience and mobile/tablet experience as separate entities.

That can be painful and costly, but a result of this could be that companies gain insights that allow them to improve the experiences they create for their users and customers.

An interesting post recently by Paul Scrivens, a product designer at hosting company MediaTemple, for instance, noted the fact that readers who visit the Financial Times (FT) from smart phones and tablets generate nearly three times as many pageviews as their desktop counterparts.

Scrivens went on to suggest that the simple, cleaner HTML5 version of the FT website served up to smart phone and tablet users is the likely cause of the pageview disparity:

On the HTML5 version you are guided down the content gently. They aren’t trying to force feed you 50 articles in one viewing. Instead you are allowed to explore the site at your leisure with only one ad in view.

Even the navigation is hidden and you can get to it at your own choosing. I would be even more interested to see how a one column design would do, but it’s obvious that the two column design with less distractions performs better than the complex grid design of the desktop version.

He concludes, "the Financial Times has shown that when you provide quality content mixed with a design that gets out of the way of your users then they enjoy the experience more."

Wither complex grid layouts? Perhaps not (yet), but there is an interesting trend emerging: mobile and tablet designs are influencing website designs -- not the other way around, which was commonplace when companies started realizing that they needed mobile-friendly sites.

Case in point: Amazon.com's recent redesign, which many believed was driven by a desire to make the Amazon browsing experience more enjoyable for shoppers using tablets.

Instead of serving up a completely separate design for shoppers using tablets, however, Amazon made global revisions. The result: a user interface that works well for tablets and desktops.

It's an approach that could work very well for some. The FT's pageview figures hint that companies could very well stand to benefit when they use their mobile/tablet site as a proxy for measuring whether a website might be overly complex or distracting.

And Amazon's approach suggests that it's beneficial (and perhaps more cost-effective) for an organization to think more broadly about design instead of trying to create separate experiences for every mobile and tablet device.

Patricio Robles

Published 10 October, 2011 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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