Inside Business | 3 min read

Why ‘Mobile First’ is the new ‘Responsive’

Alister Maple-Brown

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Alister Maple-Brown

The web is a vastly different landscape than it once was and mobile users are now a force to be reckoned with. For the past 5 years, mobile has dominated desktop as the most popular form of digital media access.

By the end of 2017, the number of mobile users worldwide is expected to reach 4.7 billion and almost 60% of those users will be using their mobile device to access the internet. That’s nearly 2.7 billion people using their smartphones and tablets to access the internet. This number alone proves the importance of designing websites that function optimally on mobile devices.

But despite this major shift in web usage patterns, there are still far to many web designers and developers stuck in the mindset of creating a website in the traditional way – for large screen desktops.

The traditional ‘desktop-first’ approach is outdated

The way we experience the internet has changed so dramatically over recent years that starting your website design with desktop in mind is the equivalent of being stuck in the mud. It prevents you from moving forward and means your website will be outdated before it even goes live.

Yes, you can create a ‘responsive’ website – but it only takes you part of the way to where you need to be.

With responsive design, users can browse a website regardless of the device they’re using. The website’s layout and content will change based on the width of the browser on a device. But you’re still taking a desktop-first approach, which is outdated and doomed to cause user frustration and result in lower online engagement.

Users are mobile

 More and more, users care about the quality of their mobile experience. The desktop experience is of less consequence to them. Whether your website is an ecommerce site or provides information and content, users want to be able to access and use it wherever they are, whenever they need it. And these days, that’s more likely to be via a mobile device.

Browsers have evolved

 Once upon a time, one of the primary differences between the desktop and mobile experience was the basic nature of mobile browsers. They didn’t support many key development features. Fast forward to today and this no longer holds true. Mobile browsers have evolved and now have power and functionality on par with desktop browsers. So there’s no need to dumb it down for mobiles any more!

User experience trumps design

All too often, web designers and developers get caught up in fancy graphics, animation and other whiz-bang functionality. But the web is not about designers and developers. It’s not even about HTML, CSS or Javascript. It’s about connecting people. A website doesn’t need lots of bells and whistles to create an outstanding and engaging user experience.

The future is ‘mobile first’

The concept of mobile-first design is as simple as it sounds. Putting it into action is, however, more complicated because it requires a comprehensive rethink of the design and development process. But the good news is that the benefits are clear:

  • Forced focus. A mobile-first approach makes you focus on people, the user experience and content. Mobile devices have a fraction of the screen space available on a desktop. So to ensure your website conveys the message it needs to, you’re forced to focus on what’s important. You need to know exactly who your target audience is and what you want them to experience when they come to your website. Too much data – even a split second’s worth – can have a dramatic effect on load time. Focusing on mobile-first ensures you optimise the key data to be sent and discard what’s ancillary.
  • Extended capability. Touch screens, GPS and other extended capabilities are part of our everyday mobile experience. Mobile-first design opens up a world of possibilities to use these extended capabilities to create a rich, context-aware website. It gives you the space to think outside the box, rather than sticking to the dated capabilities of the desktop world.
  • Cleaner design. A mobile-first approach is minimalistic. Instead of starting out with a large design with everything – including the kitchen sink! – and then deciding what to selectively display or hide on mobile, you start with the bare minimum and only add what’s absolutely required.

What it all boils down to is usability

Visitors to your website want to be able to quickly and easily find the information they need and perform the actions they’ve set out to take. Taking a mobile-first approach to design and development not only positions your website for the explosive growth that’s already happening in the mobile world, it forces you to focus on the user.

When it comes to website design in our increasingly mobile world, less is more and simple is better.

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