User First Design – Why we design mobile and desktop website experiences in parallel


It’s a fact that today more people are going to view your website on a mobile device. In the US it’s a staggering 71% of all website traffic is on a mobile device. Designing for the phone or tablet can no longer be a secondary thought. Google has even adjusted its algorithm to put significantly more weight on the responsive mobile web experience. If you don’t have an engaging mobile user experience that’s easy and intuitive its time to start over but that doesn’t mean the desktop experience has gone the way of the vinyl record (which has made a resurgence and truly does sound better than digital). One third of visitors are still going to view the website on a desktop. So why do so many agencies say mobile first or content first?  The reality is that nothing can be left to chance. The content of the site must be thought out before you can start designing but to go even one final step upstream its important to understand the business goals of the website and any potential risks that must be mitigated. Once you understand the ‘why’ its possible to start the creative process.

Content Drives Both the Mobile and Desktop Design

If you’re selling widgets or marketing services there is a strategy to accomplishing conversion. I believe that by not doing the mobile and desktop designs in unison one of the experiences will not be up to snuff. Desktop experiences can have interactive elements that aren’t plausible on tablets or phones that if considered in parallel can be better utilized. At Zenman the creative/development team starts with whiteboard sessions and sketches to imagine each section or module within every page of the website. This includes a discussion about how the person browsing will likely interact with the sites content and CTAs (calls to action). With the user in mind we start sketching both desktop and mobile on whiteboards in parallel including messaging/copy/CTAs. This continues to happen in unison into the next step, which is sketchbooks then wireframes and finishes with pixel perfect visual design in Photoshop.

Desktop Experiences Can Be Badass

In addition to the features that just aren’t feasible on a touch screen device you have the added benefit of a desktop potentially being plugged into an Ethernet port or at the very least on a decent WiFi network. What does that mean for desktop experiences? Load time is drastically reduced. Each image on the site is optimized for the screen size and bandwidth the device has. With video and other elements that eat up load time we replace those with static images on mobile experiences. Our attention span today is measured in nanoseconds. Nobody is waiting around for the video to buffer on their iPhone. After the 3rd second waiting its documented that most abandon waiting and move on (see how Amazon lost $1.6 billion in one second). However if you understand the limitations and capabilities of each device you can create the optimal experience tailored to each.

Data Driven Design

The last reason I want to hear in a creative pitch is “I thought it would look cool.” There needs to be a business reason behind the design element. Experts at designing user experiences that convert aren’t just great creatives, they understand the science behind conversion. Once you have everything in place from the right CTAs, Case Studies, frictionless shopping cart checkout processes, etc. you still have to always be learning. Continue to try different titles of buttons, colors, messaging using A/B testing to always be improving. Just remember to only test one variable at a time. If you change multiple variables like a button color and title in the same test you won’t really know what impacted the results.

As a Buddhist I believe in always learning. I have tried mobile first, content first, multiple design concepts vs. single direction and our process is always evolving based on the data. One of my favorite things to say when working on creative is “if we have facts we’ll use facts, if we have opinions we’ll just use mine.” I have been wrong many times but when working on designs I will quote Charles Barkley “I may be wrong but I doubt it.”

Calendar November 21, 2017 | User Keith Roberts