The Definition of the Mobile First Approach to Web Design

We all remember when a few years ago, all the resources, creativity and thought of web developers and website designers were concentrated on the desktop website. It made perfect sense then, as desktops and PCs were the main sources of traffic on the websites and smartphones and other devices were not advanced enough. But is the same strategy valid even now when the mobile and tablet users have captured the market and have long overtaken the desktop users?

The Mobile-First approach is much of a process and a strategy that focuses more on smartphones and content rather than the design related elements. In this process, the elements of a website like the content, the layout of the web pages and navigational techniques are made according to a mobile first rather than a desktop. It is argued that going with a mobile first approach is not only simpler but also caters to the largest audience of a website which nowadays reaches a website through a smartphone. The Mobile First strategy is used due to some very important reasons:

  • Mobile is the present: It implies that as the mobile users have overtaken desktop users. The use of mobile to reach a website becomes much more important than that of a desktop. In many countries, more than 1/4th of the population are purely mobile users, which means that this population would only be interested in the mobile version of the site. Hence it becomes logically correct to focus on designing versions of websites compatible with mobile first rather than the desktop.
  • Progressive Enhancement: Mobile First strategy is also compared with the ‘progressive enhancement’ which means that a small design will obviously include the generic and essential features of a particular website. Which will make it easier to replicate it to a desktop or a tablet version as the heart of the website is already created and ready.

As mentioned earlier, a mobile first approach would mean a ‘Content First’ Approach. Some years back, the design of the website, the color schemes and the transitions were all that focussed on Desktop. The reason being that the large screens of a desktop needed something to fill in the gap between the content and add the Wow factor. This decreased their focus on the content and resulted in substandard content in the websites. Content is a broad term which includes all the write-ups, materials, videos and images in the particular website.

Now with the focus on the mobile version of websites, the basic focus has shifted to quality, precise and attractive content. It is imperative to understand that on smaller screens, the site design and other technical aspects are not the attractive forces, rather the information and content attract.

The limitations of mobile like low bandwidth and screen size make the designers naturally and organically focus on the most important aspect of the website, the content. To the extreme end, Graceful Degradation is preferred by many, who believe that all complexities and features should be added right at the start and when incorporating them into smaller devices the complexities can be stripped off. However, a fundamental flaw could be, that it is extremely difficult to distinguish important aspects of a website already created because the features tend to merge. While degrading the website many important aspects might be deleted from the mobile version of the site.

Benefits of a Mobile-First Design Strategy:

  • Simplification is the key: In a mobile-first strategy, the paramount belief is to make the website look graceful and simpler. The importance is given to make navigation and the design of the website much simpler and the content easy to load and read. The functionality of the website becomes much more important than the technical complexities, hence serving the needs of the customer.
  • Better Content: As already mentioned above, with designing the mobile website first, content is given more preference over technicalities and design. This helps to make sure that the videos, images and the write-ups developed are relevant and interesting, which is the heart of the whole website.
  • Designing advantages: While designing a mobile version of the website, it is known that the small screen breakpoints would be able to better fit around the content. Thus it becomes organic for the breakpoints to adjust themselves on a smaller screen.
  • Increased online presence: A better website with easier navigation, better user interface improves the user experience on the websites, which increases traffic, leading to better online presence.
  • Caters to a large group: Websites are being approached much more by their mobile versions rather than the desktop one. In 2015 majority of the websites recorded that their approachability increased as they introduced better mobile versions of their websites and traffic increased. Thus it is logically justified to work more on mobile version of the websites and subsequently tablet and desktop versions

“If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything.” ― Mark Twain