How Important is Mobile-First Web Design?

Written by Shea Williamson

The headline might seem like a silly question, considering it’s safe to say that you—and the rest of the world—do A LOT of web browsing on your mobile phone. 

In fact, CNBC released an article in 2019 that highlighted research showing over 50% of mobile phone users worldwide access the internet ONLY on their phones. The same research shows that, by 2025,  over 70% of internet users will access the internet only by phone.

And in the USA, Statista says that over 80% of adults own a smartphone, and we’ll assume most are probably doing some form of mobile internet browsing.

Now, your site absolutely needs to work well enough on mobile devices—and all the content and functionality should mirror the desktop version, if for no other reason than to be indexed correctly in search results.

BUT is it safe to say that your website, even if it’s a B2B website, should follow a mobile-first design approach, or be “optimized” for mobile first and foremost?  

Our short answer: maybe.

First thing’s first—what’s “mobile-first design?”

Mobile-first design is just that—designing with the mobile experience at top-of-mind, and prioritized over the desktop, laptop, and tablet experience. 

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It involves optimizing wireframes, layouts, content, and graphics for the constraints of mobile browser sizes and functionality before scaling those same elements up to work well in more spacious (desktop/laptop) display formats. 

And all that makes  a lot of sense when you consider the stats above.

According to Invision, this design philosophy really started to gain steam back in 2010, when Google’s CEO predicted the rise in mobile browsing and advocated for prioritizing mobile experiences.

So, should you practice a mobile-first approach for your website?

A mobile-first approach clearly makes sense for lots of businesses. But that doesn’t mean it makes the most sense for YOUR business. 

Why not?

The first step to any website project is always to prioritize the right business and website goals, and mobile-first design is an APPROACH to achieving goals—a tactic, even—not a goal itself.

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When looking at your business goals, and subsequently developing a website strategy and web-specific goals to achieve your business goals, you should be considering things like:

  • Audiences — do your core audiences or personas prefer to use mobile devices to interact with or browse your site/competitors’ sites?
  • Existing traffic — existing analytics or marketing research could tell you the internet traffic patterns of your core audiences, specifically which devices are most likely to be used for accessing your site
  • Site content — simple sets of products or services, tightly packaged news or articles, or other straightforward content will usually be relatively easy to layout and interact with on mobile. Complex service offerings and longform or highly interactive content… not so much.
  • Budget — you may not have budget to go through multiple rounds of wireframing and prototyping for different types of devices. That can be a big problem if you don’t start by optimizing content and layouts for devices your audiences ACTUALLY prefer to use when visiting your site.

We work mostly with B2B companies, and we often find that B2B audiences and personas actually do their vendor research through desktop devices. We assume this is due to the fact that lots of B2B products and services have much more nuance to them than consumer products, and require more in-depth content and interactivity that can get cumbersome to consume via a mobile or compact experience.

A slightly different take on mobile web design

In order to truly optimize your site for your audience, content, and budget, we recommend more of a “mobile-conscious” design approach.

The only difference here is that we let client business goals define the design approach we take.

These days, web design, SEO, and development best-practices basically dictate that sites need to work well on mobile, regardless of whether or not they’re designed mobile-first or desktop-first.  And, honestly, any decent web design or development company will have enough experience designing both kinds of experiences that they’ll probably have that philosophy.

With all that as a given, we make sure our designers and developers leverage tools and design strategies that keep mobile browsing in mind even if and when we decide that desktop site optimization is higher priority than mobile.

How to get started with mobile-conscious web design

Any new investment project should start with business goals.

And with marketing projects (or website projects in this case), those goals should usually revolve around attracting and delighting your customers (a.k.a. site visitors).

So, worry about:

  1. Business goals first
  2. How your site/app users can help you achieve those goals—"human-centered design," anyone?
  3. Then apply the mobile design approach that best suits your users’ needs

And of course check out the A Brave New web services, or some of our website case studies, to learn a little bit more about our approach and process to developing high-end websites for companies like yours.

Written by Shea Williamson on 09.17.2020
Category Content, design, usability, Web Design  

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