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Cos the deciders are on desktop...

A screenshot that someone shared with me a few days reminded me of a conversation that drove me nuts about a year ago.

I know - terrible start to a story, but play along. :-)

The screenshot showed a bug (one visual element looked a little off) in a product I'm responsible for. I filed a mental note on it, but knew instantly I'll never prioritize fixing it - for a lot of different reasons (zero impact to functionality etc.), but mainly because the bug is on desktop - a platform that I know is not one where most new users our coming and one that I'm consistently prioritizing behind mobile. It was something I thought about for all of a split-second, and won't let anyone else waste engineering time on.

What did this remind me of? A couple years ago, some folks on another team spent weeks trying to convince me to build something that was a desktop-only enhancement to the product I was working on at the time. They pushed really hard, despite confirming (again and again!) that they did really understand that less than half the users they wanted to reach would see this, and that those number of users would decline over time.

I'd poked for a while at their motivation, and their initial rationale was "at least this set of users will see something better". I naively admired their passion for their customers, but explained that the investment of time and engineering effort wasn't worth it.

Finally, they said "Actually, our boss will see this demo on desktop and that'll really impress him." 

That was my first real introduction to the "decider is on desktop" problem, but since then I've had to catch it again and again.

While for most products these days, our users are accessing them on mobile devices, the people that make decisions about them (not just execs and managers, but engineers, designers and business folks with the company as well) have spent a long time perfecting their work environments on desktop. Most mobile demos I see even today are in desktop emulators.

So very often, despite knowing better, teams will end up over-investing on desktop and under-investing on mobile. Our work environments aren't going to change overnight. Mark Zuckerberg may be able to draft his IPO letter on his phone, but I still see a significant boost in productivity from an extra monitor in my work setup.

So what do you do?

  • Rules definitely help:
    Most people I know now have "mobile-first" or "mobile-only" investment rules. Some teams refuse to review mocks that aren't mobile-only. Others mandate that all development should be mobile-only. There is no mobile product development. Software that works on phones is just called product development now.
  • So does infrastructure: Tools (demo environments, dev environments etc.) that make it easy to not just develop, but demo to your teams and have them experience on mobile are critical. This is still something most companies haven't got right because the existing setups are "good enough".
  • Finally, there's self-awareness:
    Knowing the bias is the first step. Then you can watch it.  Make sure your deciders aren't on desktop :-)


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