Mobile-First Design: What Is It and Why It Matters

Detail Blog | todo Mobile

August 5th, 2021

What is Mobile-First Design? 

As it suggests, mobile-first design is the process of creating websites and/or applications for handheld devices first, before designing them for desktop. Handheld devices include cell phones, tablets and smartwatches. The reasoning behind this philosophy is that it will consistently create an overall better experience for users across all devices.    

Why is Mobile-First Design So Important? 

In general, there are two reasons why prioritising mobile devices is vital when it comes to digital design. The first, is that mobile technology has now become the most popular tool with which to browse the internet. As of July 2021, it is estimated that phones have a 55.89% market share globally globally, meaning that more people use their mobile devices to consume online content than desktop. Furthermore, it is predicted that 72.6% of the world will access the internet solely through smartphones by 2025 will access the internet solely through smartphones by 2025As such, it is virtually guaranteed that any potential customer interaction with a brand will occur through mobile devices, meaning it is necessary to prioritise the design and user experience of a website or application on those devices first in order to be competitive and relevant.  

The second reason is that mobile devices have more limitations. For example, cell phones have a considerably smaller screen size, meaning very little content can be displayed on the screen at any given time, compared to the larger desktops. Combine this with other factors, such as phones having less processing power, a vertical layout, and touch screens. Phones are overall simplermore restrictive, and fundamentally different from computers; what works well on desktops might not work well on mobile. As such, it is better to solidify the design and elements for a website or application on mobile-first to ensure the most important features are included and work successfully. Then, as you expand the design to larger screen sizes, you can be more creative and liberal with the design, introducing new components and, knowing that the necessary features are already established and work wellOverall, it just makes sense to start small, and grow outwards, rather than trying to cram elements and features optimized for desktop onto mobile devices.    

A vibrant image of a smartphone surrounded by a calculator, ipad, and potted plant

What Should You Do to Achieve a Mobile-First Design? 

If you are just starting to design your website or application, or realise you need to update you existing one to be mobile friendly, one of the best ways to achieve a seamless user experience across all platforms is through seeking the help of a UX/UI designer.  

A UX/UI designer is responsible for two distinct, but related, roles in design work. UX stands for “user experience,” and that part of the job is focused on figuring out the best and easiest ways for users to navigate websites to accomplish their goals as well as the features they need to achieve said goals. UI stands for “user interface,” and that aspect of the role looks at creating a good visual experience by designing the layout and graphics of a website so that it is easy for people to use. A UX/UI designer is the best choice to achieve a result that looks good and works well on mobile devices.

Studies have found that for every $1 spent on UX/UI design you will earn a return of $100 in revenue, you will earn a return of $100 in revenue, making it a good investment to hire someone with UX/UI experience, or train current employees in these skillsIf this is not feasible, and you have an existing website, you should consider hiring someone to perform a UX audit. During a UX audit, a professional will go through your website or application, and identify all areas that can be improved to create a better user experience and create a list of recommendations of how to do so. However, once they have provided their recommendations, it will be up to you to implement the changes.  

Regardless of the circumstances, if you are designing/redesigning your website on your own, there are many resources online, from books to articles to videos, that can give you some tips when it comes to mobile-first design. Below is a short list of some good practices that can help you get started. 

  1. Keep the design as simple as possible: One of the most important aspects of design in general, especially for mobile, is to ensure users can find what they are looking for, and to not overwhelm them with unnecessary elements they do not need. Therefore, keep the layout simple, to the point, and try to create as few steps as possible for users to get from point A to B. The rule is that it should not take more than 3-5 steps for a user to accomplish their goal. So, for example, if the user needs to complete their online purchase, it should not take more than 5 steps to complete the checkout process. Similarly, mobile devices are significantly smaller, meaning less content will be visible on the screen at any given time. As such, it is vital to take advantage of the limited space you have by only putting only essential content on your website and organize it so that users can easily scan it, such as by utilising different heading sizes, bullet points, etc.  
  2. Make buttons big and look clickable:  As mobile devices are operated by touch, buttons and other interactive content should be large enough so that they are easy to tap on. Likewise, as the touch points must be big, put enough distance between buttons so that users do not accidently tap on the wrong one. Lastly, since mobile devices do not support functions like hover effects to tell users that something can be clicked on, ensure all buttons look like what people expect them to look like so that there is no confusion for users to know what they can and cannot click on.  
  3. Make Text Larger: As mobile devices are smaller, it is necessary to make text bigger to make content easier to read. Pick a sans-serif font for better readability, and keep the font size to a minimum of 16 pixels.   
  4. Keep thumb positioning in mind: Most people use one or both of their thumbs to navigate on their cell phones. Therefore, ensure that most interactive content on your website, like buttons and navigation, can be easily reached by using thumbs.
  5. Keep pages as short as possible: Long pages filled with content forces users to scroll for long periods, putting a strain on their digits, as well as makes it harder for them to locate what they are looking for. As such, keep pages as short as possible through means such as limiting the amount of text, and breaking tasks/pages up into multiple screens. 
  6. Test your website: At the end of the day, testing a website with real people is the best way to know if you have designed it correctly. Have someone try and navigate the website and complete tasks take note of what they think of the website and any problems they encounter, so that you can make any necessary improvements. 

An image of 3 low fidelity mobile mockups, done in watercolour

Conclusion 

In the age where mobile technology is the most popular way to consume content online, it is a fatal mistake for companies to neglect the mobile experience of their website or application. As such, it is important to prioritise the user experience of mobile users to create growth and success for a business, and a mobile-first approach to design is a valuable way to accomplish this. By doing so, it will not only make your life easier, but greatly enhance the experience and satisfaction of your users.   

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