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Obama's campaign site slammed

Stephanie Rieger slams Obama campaign site's mobile failure and makes plea for progressive enhancement

In a post on her blog, mobile-oriented designer Stephanie Rieger has slammed the Obama campaign site for its mobile failings. In 'A plea for progressive enhancement', she notes that over a billion people use the web on mobile devices, which accounts for 6.5 per cent of all web traffic.

The article warns that for the mobile web to benefit everyone, "we have to start building sites using solid, future friendly principles such as progressive enhancement". The new Barack Obama campaign site, while initially looking smart, fails in most mobile browsers, through not enabling access to the navigation. In Rieger's tests, only devices running iOS 5 and Ice Cream Sandwich are able to use the site as intended, thereby locking out a number of products still on sale. The article adds that other issues include content in part being off-screen for many users, and the prevention of zooming.

The Obama team has in the past been considered web-savvy, we asked Rieger for her thoughts on what went wrong. "Given the wide audience that Obama needs to reach, this type of failure was disappointing but not entirely unexpected," she said. "We are still at that awkward in-between stage. While there is mounting excitement about the mobile web, there is also a lack of understanding of the opportunities and constraints of the medium. The presence of HTML5 on many devices has only exacerbated this."

According to Rieger, with mobile use growing so quickly, 2012 has to be the year designers take mobile seriously. "A large part of this comes down to planning and testing. Designing and building a site 'the same way we always have' then expecting to quickly mobile-optimise it just doesn't work," she told us. "An important first step is to purchase a few devices. Emulators and desktop web developer tools are useful for the early stages, but until you test on representative devices, you really don't know if a site will work as you intended. I also recommend teams prototype the site early on – or to a certain extent 'design in the browser' – to reality-check the behaviour and performance of the design."

Opera web evangelist Bruce Lawson also told us he was disappointed by the site, and warned that it could impact negatively on Obama's hopes: "In what will be a very tight election, Mr Obama's team is choosing to ignore many potential converts. Businesses do exactly the same thing: why exclude potential customers in a recession by deliberately deciding not to let them read your site? If you don't want the business of people who own a different computer from your web designer, I guarantee your competitor does." Lawson quipped that this kind of thing can be avoided by simply following 'groundbreaking' rules: "Code to standards, not to browsers; use progressive enhancement; remember that you are not your user."

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