Designing For A World in Motion
The rush of smartphones and then tablets that followed the introduction of the iPhone in 2007 brought a new wave of web design considerations – smaller screens, lighter processing power, limited support for multimedia content. The exponential growth of the mobile market drove web design to evolve toward smaller devices which brings us to the current divergence in both design and development- should we design for desktop browsers or design for mobile?
“Progressive Enhancement” is a more descriptive term for how the code works behind the scenes to display the content on progressively larger browser real estate – Working from mobile browsers with limited functionality to a full, wide-open desktop browser experience. “Mobile first” puts the focus on delivering the content.
The flip side to progressive enhancement is what’s known as “graceful degradation.” This method puts together a fully-functional site and then tests on older and mobile browsers to see what works – and what doesn’t. The designers then decide what is an acceptable level of operation and advises against viewing the site from browsers or platforms that aren’t up to the task.
How does Zenman come at mobile-first? During our Information Architecture meetings at Zenman we focus on the content, design elements, and functionality that will serve the client best by attracting viewers. Once the design process starts, the concepts and wireframes from IA are conceptualized in both mobile and desktop forms which we present to our client, showing how the site will scale. Zenman designer Taylor Langan puts it simply: “Mobile-first is a much more practical approach to design.”
Our development team looks at mobile-first as a user experience issue. Developer Kellee Martins spelled it out: “When we do desktop first it’s easy to say ‘Let’s just collapse everything on mobile.’ It will look fine but there won’t be a lot of thought put into the mobile experience. When we do mobile first we actually strategize for the best user experience on mobile.”
In 2015 Paul Adams wrote that if you’re designing mobile-first, you’re missing half of your potential audience because a large percentage of workers are in front of desktop or laptop screens for a good portion of their day. However, as document operational performance and mobile learning company PlayerLync can attest, mobile devices continue to make their way into occupations that are not traditionally computer-oriented, such as restaurant kitchens and retail sales floors.
How does mobile-first design affect SEO? We put this question to Natalie Henley, President of local SEO & content marketing house Volume Nine. “It’s no secret that today your user is more than likely on a mobile device vs. a desktop device, so it stands to reason that SEO strategy should mimic that.” Adding support to the mobile-first position, she referenced one of their own blogs that describes the upcoming changes that Google is making to its search index results. “Your rankings in desktop and mobile will be evaluated based on your mobile experience and content, not your desktop rankings. This is a major shift in how Google indexes content and will have a huge negative impact on SEO strategies that aren’t taking mobile into consideration.”
I also asked Natalie why someone would want a mobile website when they could just design an app and have mobile traffic run through that? “I wouldn’t consider a mobile app as a substitute for a responsive website, I’d consider it an additional component. Designing and building an app, then implementing the app indexing API can be a very cost-intensive solution, versus a website redesign that is mobile friendly.”
Which brings us back to our original question: Does mobile-first mean desktop last?
As we’ve shown, mobile-first is simply designing for your site’s visitors, who are increasingly arriving via mobile devices. Zenman creates responsive websites, about which which Google says “If you have a responsive site…where the primary content and markup is equivalent across mobile and desktop, you shouldn’t have to change anything.” In short, design and develop a responsive site that delivers a good user experience on both platforms and you can’t go wrong.