Context Over Technology

Cross-platform planning has recently become the holy grail of development as designers rush to make their content identical on all platforms: Websites, smartphones, tablets and info stations.

Even if this is possible, the real challenge isn’t to make all content available on every platform but to figure out which content the platform user needs and how it should best be displayed. Considering the platform’s technology (its use of touchscreens, for example), its screen size and the context of its use will determine the kind of content it should display.

Different platforms have different screen sizes and some have touchscreen features that should not be ignored. Different platforms are also used differently  – in public (info stations) or in private, for specific needs (smartphone apps) or in a broader context (stationary workstations and tablet computers).

Public space info kiosks provide different information than an iPad app, even though the iPad screen size is roughly the same as the kiosk’s and they both have touch capabilities. The difference between them is the context of their use. I will use the kiosk to view my account balance or make a deposit but not to read an article.

The content displayed on a small smartphone screen will likewise differ from the content of a website viewed via tablet or a 19-inch desktop monitor. A navigation app will operate differently on a smartphone which has the ability to lead me to my destination.

A good example of different platform uses is the culinary website Epicurious, whose phone and tablet apps have over 7 million downloads.

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The Epicurious website features a wealth of recipes and articles on cooking and nutrition. Other platforms, however, focus on recipes and shopping lists. Each one is designed differently to suit its specific technological and usage context.

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The website’s iPhone app automatically displays the number of recipes the user’s search criteria will match, while its iPad app utilizes the platform’s larger screen size to begin displaying the recipes themselves as well.

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On top of that, Epicurious also has a recipe and shopping app for the Samsung refrigerator touch screen. The search method used here is specially suited for the culinary workspace.

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