What is Mobile First Design?

- Maureen Dillon 03.09.2015


As the name implies, Mobile First is an approach to creating responsive website designs that are created with smaller screens in mind. Mobile First is a concept that was created by Like Wroblewski in 2009 and introduced to the world in 2011. As a web designer, you may know all about creating responsive websites. But should you really care about Mobile First responsive designs? If yes, why?

This article has the answers to your questions. But before that, let us begin with an understanding of what Mobile First is and how significant a role it plays in business development and growth.

Putting Mobiles First

The Mobile First design approach involves in creating responsive website designs first for mobile screens and then extending or upgrading them for larger screens. Also called the progressive enhancement model, Mobile First is an approach preparing web designers for the future, when the number of desktop users will be a lot lesser than mobile users. So web designers will have to ditch their approach of looking at a design for desktops first and then gracefully degrading it to suit smaller screens. In simple terms, rather than starting with a "full size" website design and then downsizing it to suit smaller screens, you will begin with designs for smaller screens first and then upgrade to larger screens.

With more and more people using mobiles to access the internet, mobile first is an approach that gains precedence over the other approaches. Businesses wanting to reach out to more people should and will focus on mobile, which means web designers and development professionals should be prepared to take the Mobile First approach.

Mobile Devices are the Present

Gone are the days when people said mobiles were the future. They are not. Nor are they a trend right now, nor are they just a niche. Mobile technology is the present today and has been integrated throughout all industries and areas around the world. The retail industry, sports and gaming, education, or any other niche, each and every B2B or B2C industry is trying to make its presence felt via mobile technology.

Advancements in mobile technology have made smartphones cheaper and affordable for more people around the world. That combined with the development of 3G and 4G networks has made increased the use of smartphones fro accessing the web. A study by market researcher eMarketer has revealed that by the end of 2015, there will be 2 billion smartphone users around the world and over 83 percent of them will be using the mobile devices to access the internet. By the end of 2014, the total number of mobile users was approximated to 4.77 billons and the number is likely to grow to 5.13 billion by 2017.

Given these facts and the possibility of mobile devices entirely overtaking desktops and even laptops cannot be ignored. This is where the Mobile First approach will be most useful. When a majority of the business' customers are using mobiles, why would they want to create a responsive site for desktops first?

Benefits of Mobile First Approach

Not you may have heard all about how the mobile phones are going to take over desktops completely in the near future. So that is one reason to opt for the mobile first approach in web design. But is that the only one? Not really. Designing for mobiles first has more benefits than designing for desktops first.

Focus on What's More Important

When you think of designing for mobile first, you think of smaller screens. When the screen size is 320px X 480px or lesser, you cannot fill it up with trivial stuff. The smaller the screen, the more you are forced to think about the most important things that should be occupying that space. In a way, mobile first design forces you to cut out the unwanted texts and images and focus only on the core message that the business wants to deliver to its clients. This does not mean you don’t get to experiment a little and have fun trying different templates for the website. You will still have fun and at the same time, will not lose focus on what's most important.

Basic User Requirements Met

Another advantage of taking the mobile first web design approach is that the focus shifts to meeting the basic requirements of the user. When you work on a website design, the idea is to create a website that is as appealing as possible, besides being functional. But with mobile designs, you won't have much of an option to think about the appearance of the web page. Given the smaller size of the screen and the limited features that you can offer through the mobile platform, web designers are forced to create a mobile web design that meets the basic requirements of the user first and then think of adding themes, or graphics.

Creating Fluid or Responsive Mobile Designs

Responsive DesignThe screen size for mobile devices depends on the make and model. There is no one-size-fits-all design for all mobiles. So it is important for designers to create fluid or responsive designs for mobiles rather than adaptive designs for different designs. Creating a fluid mobile first design with a min and max width will make your website function easily on any screen size.

Progressive enhancement

Mobile First design is also called progressive enhancement because it focuses on delivering value first to the customers. When you design for the mobile screens first, your thoughts are about placing the most valuable and useful information and features on the mobile site. Then comes appearance and styling and other aesthetic factors. With mobile first designs, functionality precedes appearance.

With Progressive enhancement, designers will first add content and then can add or enhance the presentation, styling and other features based on the size of the screen and the resolutions it supports. The process is all about taking simple content and functions and enhancing them based on the increasing screen sizes to deliver an amazing user experience. 

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