Catlin Gabel has launched a mobile theme for its website. If you visit the site on your mobile phone, you should automatically see the mobile interface and have an opportunity to add an icon to your home screen. Please let me know if you run into bugs or usability issues on the mobile site!
Mobile theme or responsive theme?
The mobile theme technique has been around for a couple of years. The site autodetects the mobile device and loads a completely different theme for the site. More recently, developers have adopted responsive theming, where page elements adjust to the smaller screen size, for example by reflowing items or scaling down images.
A mobile theme made more sense for Catlin Gabel than a responsive theme. We were quoted a project cost three times larger to create the responsive theme, because this would have involved reworking the desktop theme. Creating a simpler, separate theme for mobile devices had a more reasonable price. Our current desktop theme is nearly three years old, so the school will likely redesign the entire site theme within a couple of years, so this mobile theme is temporary.
We designed a new navigation system for the mobile theme, due to space constraints and the different priorities of mobile users. Site analytics revealed that users visited the calendar, athletics, and directory pages more often on phones than other devices, so we made these more prominent. At the same time, users visit the rest of the site in a similar pattern to desktop users. A single jump menu takes advantage of the scrolling select interface popular on phone operating systems, while providing access first to the most popular pages in the site and then all of the major site pages in alphabetical order.
Unlike most mobile themes, our interface allows one to get to just about any page on the site without having to switch to the desktop view. The mobile site is fully featured. Still, the ubiquitous “desktop view” link at the bottom allows for times when user prefers the desktop view.
While the mobile site has some issues, it achieves the immediate need of improving the mobile user experience while keeping the cost reasonable.