The multiple faces of a complex business app

1 Feb 2012 - 4:21pm
4 years ago
4 replies
1325 reads
desiree mccrorey

Tasked with designs that support porting a complex business desktop app to web and mobile platforms... well, to me it's obvious I will need to break down the desktop capabilities into useful bite-sized chunks that will support the various user goals, task flows, etc.

My expectation is,if the chunks are optimally structured (much easier said than done), then on the desktop, the user can choose to juggle one or more chunks (functions, utilities, tools) simultaneously. As the platforms get more constrained, the number of chunks and how they're made available is more constrained.

Problem is I feel I'm the only one in the company (small business) that expects that. I'm dealing with execs with high expectations, dreams of dropping the desktop all together within a couple of years, running a complex app on a smartphone. Really? Who knows, it may be possible in a few years.

But for now, I want to define a transitory strategy where the designs reflect how to structure an app to be a well coordinated experience on desktop, web and mobile, since users will not be constrained to just one. I need to define it in a way that the execs will understand and nod approvingly. 

I've been searching for quite a while, looking for a few good discussions. I haven't found much on the web yet.

If anyone has a brilliant set of keywords, links, books, that defines approaches to expanding a line of business desktop app to web and mobile platforms, please share.



2 Feb 2012 - 4:43am

I'm imminently embarking on a project in a similar vein, so very interested in what you discover. My initial strategy has been to assume that the mobile components are discrete but complementary to the desktop parts, but interesting to think in terms of designing to accommodate a structured, coordinated experience across all platforms.

2 Feb 2012 - 7:22am
Fredrik Matheson

It's a matter of platform vs posture, and what sort of actions different platforms support.

About Face 3 has some nice examples for you:

3 Feb 2012 - 3:07pm

I'm tasked with something similar, converting a complicated enterprise application to a web-based app. I'm constantly looking for ways to improve what I'm doing, but haven't found many good resources so far. One I'm going to try is taking the Nielsen Norman Group's classes on application usability. One of the biggest challenges so far seems to be fitting large quantities of data on a fairly small screen. I think I already have About Face 3, I just haven't read it yet. Time to break that out!

3 Feb 2012 - 6:01pm

I have a suggestion for you: make this into a decision about users

Instead of using the format of the device(eg. Screen size) to justify excluding certain features, use the audience and the context of use to reprioritise the list of use cases, before worrying about how to execute them on mobile

- for example, administrative functions are normally performed by staff on-site, and so rarely on a mobile device, while sales orientated tasks are often needed on the road, and often a high priority for mobile implementation

- ask the business to determine which users need to be accommodated by the business in the short term, and which in the medium term, and in what contexts and how frequently

- these are all valid business questions that your stakeholders should be focused on, rather than jumping to whether the mobile version should replace or complement the desktop app...

- talking in terms of priorities, rather than constraints, also allows you to respond to stakeholder ambition (which isn't in itself a bad thing) with a roadmap

One thing you might find from doing this is that there is in fact no reason to produce a single mobile app that handles every business case (the Swiss army-knife app)... A suite of apps may be more appropriate, and may simplify security and session maintenance.

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