What is Mobile-First Web Design?

Making your website mobile-friendly is no longer optional, priortising design for mobile devices is the next step.

If a new website is on the agenda, you may have heard the phrase ‘responsive website’ or ‘mobile-friendly website’ or ‘mobile-first website design’. What does this mean, and does it apply to your business?

What is Mobile-First Web Design?

If a new website is on the agenda, you may have heard the phrase ‘responsive mobile-first website design’. What does this mean, and does it apply to your business?

It is common knowledge that most adults now own a smartphone. According to Finder Mobile Stats 2019, 79% of over 18-year-olds own a mobile device (100% of 16-24-year-olds). On average, each of these individuals spends just over 2.5 hours a day accessing the internet via their phone.


Mobile-first acknowledges the fact that a growing number of searches are taking place on mobile devices. It focuses on the need to provide potential customers with the best user experience.

Making a website mobile-friendly is no longer optional, prioritising mobile devices is the new web design standard going into 2020.

How is Mobile-First Different from Other Web Design

From the moment that the very first website was built, the strategy has been to design and develop solutions for a large, desktop screen. Creating stunning graphics, efficient functionality and clearly explaining what you offer is easier when you have plenty of space to work with.

In 2015, Google’s drive to provide the best user experience saw a shift. Mobile responsive websites were favoured in the index and ranking. Mobile responsive websites are developed to adapt the presentation of the content, depending on the screen size.

Mobile responsive website development is now an industry standard. It is what Google and your customers expect, but it isn’t necessarily mobile-first. In most cases, most websites are still built for a large screen and then downsized for mobile.

This year, Google began to prioritise the indexing and ranking of mobile-first sites.

Mobile-first starts with a small screen and explores how to deliver a unique online experience when space, design and functionality must be restrained. It is focused on ensuring customers can access key content with speed and ease. With the core content nailed, the design can be built upon for desktop visitors.

Did you know that Instagram is one of many sites which were developed for mobile only access? For most businesses it is preferable to have a responsive design, but this might not be necessary in the future.


What are the Challenges of Mobile-First Website Design?

With mobile-first or desktop-first website design, the end product is the same; a mobile response website, but the route to achieving this is different. The two require a completely different approach in terms of the brief, the marketing strategy and web development skills.

When thinking about web design, most customers want beautifully branded pages, keyword-rich, engaging content and multiple functionalities. They want to visually stand out from the competition. As web developers, we want to showcase what we are capable of and produce impressive websites. We often win or lose jobs based on the visual aesthetics of sites in our portfolio.

Both objectives make it logical to start with a large screen, but what about the customer? If a business wants to attract and convert customers, the priority must be user experience (UX). Increasingly customers want speed and convenience, and this is where mobile-first design comes to the fore.

Mobile-first design strips everything back to its essential components. It means accurately pinpointing your message, simplified design, intuitive navigation and bold calls to action. It means identifying a hierarchy of information – what is essential and what is desirable. The essential elements form the mobile version, with desirable additions added as the screen size grows.

It really is quite challenging to create a strong brand identity, differentiate your site from competitors and develop engaging content with tight restrictions, but this is a customer-first approach.

The website designer must also think about users moving around the site with their fingertips, rather than a mouse or cursor. This means that interactive elements have to be given enough prominence and space.

In addition, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) still depends on strong content. As the design scales up for larger screens, it is important that keyword-rich content and other SEO features are included.


Focus on User Experience

With a mobile-first website design, every element needs to be approached from the user perspective. The vision of both the company and the website developer are secondary to satisfying user’s requirements.

The mobile user wants to see what they are looking for in seconds. They are swayed by speed and convenience over richly branded graphics. They want to watch a video (embedded, not uploaded) rather than read text. They want a bite-sized snippet of what you can offer them to carry around in their pocket.


Why is Mobile-First Website Development Better?

Using responsive design framework makes it easy to define each section of your design for small, medium and large screen sizes, we can choose to display or hide sections from smaller screens as well. A simple example is to show contact telephone number in form of a button that can initiate a call only on mobile device but hide it on desktop computer and place it above main navigation where is visible all the time.

When the essence of the business is captured effectively for the small screen and then built upon, the chance of achieving a good user experience, across the board, is heightened.


Mobile-First Web Design in Summary

It is highly unlikely that all your web page visitors will be viewing your content on a desktop screen. For this reason, mobile responsive website design is essential. Taking this step further, mobile-first web design is an effective way of delivering a positive user experience no matter what device is being used.

With mobile-first design:

  • It is all about User Experience (UX)
  • Loading speed and quick access to information is the priority
  • Concise messages are a must
  • Designers must consider effective touch screen navigation
  • Additional features, functionality and content can be added to the core design as the screen size grows, so you still end up with a visually impressive and SEO rich website

Is your website’s technology and design making you feel like your company is getting left behind?

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