Mobile-First Web Design
Posted 11 January 2013
Responsive Web Design has taken the web development industry by storm. Traditional website design principles (most notably that a one-size-fits-all approach was more than a possibility; it was the norm) are now being shown to have significant flaws. It’s clear that 2013 will be a year in which the diversification of platforms which we are using to browse the internet continues to gather pace. This can only mean that responsive web design becomes yet more prominent.
Early efforts at responsive website design began with the premise that the web designer would take a conventional website and find ways to condense the content to fit on a mobile or tablet-sized screen. This is hugely advantageous, giving a web design that looks great on a wide range of devices, and performs just as well on the go as it will on a large screen. In other words, you start with a fully-fledged desktop-friendly website and then adapt it for mobile.
Mobile-first web design is quite different. Instead of reducing a PC-frendly site to a content-lite, mobile version, the design process begins at a mobile level. This reflects a growing worldwide trend; in India, for example, more households have access to a mobile phone than a toilet. If your primary audience will be mobile users, it’s logical to begin the web design process at that level and then upscale it to a desktop-friendly site. The growing popularity of apps highlights the fact that being able to find content quickly and easily is an increasingly crucial element of website design.
One way in which mobile-first web design redefines the way in which we build websites is the traditional navigation bar. If you’re using a desktop then you are accustomed to finding navigation at the top of each page, giving you links to key sections of the website, in addition to the content unique to that page. Mobile users, however, have limited time and space. This means that content needs to be kept to a minimum, and navigation takes a different form – usually stacked vertically rather than horizontally.
By designing a site using mobile-first web design and then upscaling it to fit larger resolution screens, the web designer is forced to significantly prioritise content. It’s simply not possible to fill the screen with content, links, advertisements etc. However, rather than see this as a constraint, mobile-first website design regards this ordering of priorities as a springboard to cleaner, more efficient design that performs better on every device.
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