Traditionally, web designers begin the design of an interface design with sketches, ideation and wireframing from a desktop point of view. Nauturally, this has been the progression as personal computers were for the most part tethered to a users desk. With the trend shifting to a a heavily mobile using audience, designers must adapt to the differences and challenges in user experience that a smaller screen brings.
Acknowledging the growing need for a user centered and consistent approach to mobile design, the development of Responsive Web Design was born. Working to ensure the optimal in UX, RWD consists of incorporating design elements that allow a page to respond to the screen size, and device, that a browser is using to view that page. Design elements must include different screen sizes to ensure a uniform experience across devices instead of just designing for one device.
In Responsive Web Design, instead of a mobile site with its own URL, the URL is the same across all devices, with the page rearranging itself to fit the screen. But don’t be fooled, a mobile first approach is much more than just screen size response. Taking a mobile first approach to design has many benefits encompassing a total usability and conversion integration strategy.
Greater Focus on core content and functionality
In essence, a mobile first approach to interface design is a content first strategy. When designing for mobile, content must be pared down to its most critical form. Taking a simplicity approach to content is necessary for mobile as space is at a minimum and the user must be able to find what they are looking for quickly. Adding content is easy, so launching a site with the more core and intuitive language and messaging will lead to a higher level of user cognition, leading to earlier conversions and more sustainable relationships.
Consistent, relevant & concise experience across device
As described with the methodology of Responsive Web Design, a mobile first strategy ensures consistent imagery – both visual and contexual across device. A user who has been to the desktop site and moves to the mobile site won’t miss a beat as the same calls to action will be present.
When designing for mobile, many designers tend to stick to a guideline of about 5-7 menu items. This way, the user has a better chance of getting to their intended destination faster – and speed is of the utmost importance when testing for mobile usability. Drop downs for mobile sites are obsolete, being replaced with hidden menus or hamburger navigational structures. Users have become so accustomed to this trend that the design is now implemented even for non-mobile first designs.
In analyzing task performance on a mobile first designed site, the data shows that a user accomplishes their task infinitely better than its non optimized desktop version. Once the desktop site was optimized, the user was able to find what they were looking for quickly. Instead of scaling visual elements that are only optimized for desktop, the experiential aspect of a mobile site is kept intact through optimization of visual assets.
Increased visibility & reach, SEO
Though it may be surprising, many visitors will only visit a site on a mobile device. If the experience is not optimized, the user is likely not to return. Additionally, sites that are not optimized for mobile will now drop in SEO rankings, though may still rank adequately if content is of high-quality. Its important for site owners to understand that if they do not optimize for mobile their relevance and reach will be diminished in both the eyes of the user and search engines alike.