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Toronto-based boutique agency specializing in web design and development, identity and print design.
Sep 17

Why you need to know about Mobile First

Mobile First is a term that’s everywhere these days. So what is it? Well, instead of designing your site for a regular desktop or laptop computer, and then adapting it to mobile, this approach starts with mobile (the HARDEST device to design for, let me tell you) and adapts it to other types of screens from there.

The gurus call this “progressive enhancement.” You create an amazing site for your phone that maximizes that tiny amount of screen real estate, and looks great and works perfectly. Only then do you enhance it for platforms that have fewer constraints.

Sounds great, right? It is, but it definitely has its challenges. Here’s the rundown of the good and not-so-good:

You won’t alienate your audience. 25% of web users only use their phone to go online, only rarely using a desktop to access the internet. That’s a pretty significant chunk that will get frustrated and move on if your site looks like garbage or doesn’t work as well as the desktop version.

It forces designers to really think things through. Mobile First is like designing a 500 square foot condo instead of a 4000 square foot house. With a teeny space, you have to make tough, thoughtful choices that are all highly functional. When it’s time to move into a bigger place, upsizing is easy. But when you’ve got all the room you need at the beginning, you can throw anything in there – what happens when you need to downsize? (Anybody who has ever helped their parents move knows this pain.)

It’s easier to enhance that to cut. Taking existing features away creates a watered-down experience. But adding just enhances it. This approach gives you a better mobile site while still providing an excellent desktop experience.

Google likes it. When your site is designed to be super-friendly on mobile, you get serious points. And if it’s responsively designed, recent algorithms will penalize you.

It’s really hard. If you were a painter, what would you rather have? A big canvas where you can do whatever you want, or a tiny one that limits what you can do (but is still supposed to have the same impact as the big one)? I don’t know many designers who enjoy taking this approach.

It’s limiting. With a small screen, there are lots of great features you can’t take advantage of. And if 25% of your users only look at your site on mobile, what about the other 75%? Who gets priority?

Your best bet is to design based on how your audience uses your site. Sometimes Mobile First makes sense, and sometimes it doesn’t. Not sure what’s right for you? Talk to us.