Mobile First: A shift in thinking

by Shareef Ayyad. Average Reading Time: about 2 minutes.

Having just reached the final few pages of Ethan Marcotte’s book on Responsive Web Design, I was completely thrown by his suggestion to design websites for the mobile platform first, and then cater for larger screen sizes afterwards. I had just spent the better part of two days wrapping my head around fluid grids, flexible images and media queries and had so many ideas for the Joy and Revolution site redesign, but I felt it odd that he left it to the last minute to mention this huge shift in process.

I say huge because that’s what it is: huge. Designing a site to be mobile-sized first forces you to prioritise the content, think about context of use, and really question the use of images. It’s so easy to design a full-sized website in Photoshop and throw supplemental content in the right column of every page in the name of content promotion. However, persuading a client that he or she needs to agree to shrink, or even completely remove content on their pages is going to be a challenge.

Know your audience

One of the challenges we are facing in redesigning our agency site to be responsive, is how to prioritise the content for our mobile users. Admittedly, we are in our early days as an organisation so access to our audience for user research is somewhat limited. Our initial assumption was that users accessing our site on mobile devices would be on the move in the outside world, and only interested in reading our About Us text and getting in touch using the contact form.
However, Luke Wroblewski mentions in his latest book Mobile First a survey that found 84% of people used their smartphones at home, and 64% used them at work. This quashes our earlier assumption about mobile users. Smartphone owners are not just accessing the web because they need to (i.e find directions, contact details), they are browsing the web because they want to. Mobile browsing is becoming the default web experience for many people, especially the younger generation. And it makes sense. Why turn on your desktop computer when you can sit on the couch or lie in bed and access the same content?

This forced us to rethink our content priorities, and bring our project case studies to the fore. Despite the smaller screen size of an iPhone or Android phone, potential clients will still want to read about our previous projects.

The site is still in development, but I plan to post more on our attempts to create a responsive web design for mobile first, soon.