Three years ago, I claimed that we spent too much time on our phones. Now, I don’t have words to describe how bad it has become. I know, because I’m addicted to it too.
According to Statistica, at the beginning of the year, 59% of the worldwide population were active internet users. From that number, 4.18 billion are unique mobile users.
There’s still so much to do when it comes to design engaging and meaningful mobile websites. This is why, in 2020, we’re still talking about the mobile-first concept. Although it isn’t, by any means, a new concept, it’s necessary to put it to practice and let go of other options.
What exactly is the mobile-first approach?
In simple words, mobile-first means that once you start designing, you should start by considering the hardest device – the mobile. Why? Because once you constrain everything to the smallest space available and focus on the core features, scaling up will be a lot easier.
It is as if you build a house, you start from the foundation and build upwards.
Technical terms for design approaches
There are two general terms related to the way you design a system, depending on whether you use the mobile-first approach and build up – Progressive Advancement -, or you start by the desktop version and cut content out – Graceful Degradation.
The first term indicates that we start from the simpler, core functions, and advance to adding more interactions, effects, all the extras. That way, you ensure a smoother transaction between mobile and computer/tablet, without compromising the content of the website.
Graceful Degradation implies that you build the most complex version right from the start, and then strip it to the core for smaller versions. The part of doing it gracefully, it’s the tricky one.
Experience has taught me (and I’ve seen it many times) that adding in is often a lot easier than removing or simplifying.
When designing everything from the start, it can be a lot harder to distinguish what’s supplementary from what’s necessary, since they’re often intertwined together. This can compromise the mobile experience and appear to be a last-minute adaptation. So there’s a higher chance that you end up with a mobile version that doesn’t live up to the standard of the initial website.
Why is mobile-first the best approach?
There are several reasons to go for a mobile-first approach, one of which was previously mentioned. Nonetheless, let’s break down a couple of more topics.
1. Segmentation based on users needs/preferences
Mobile-first is not only fundamental to ensure that the necessary content is there, as is also a possibility to amplify the experience based on user behavior and preferences.
With tools such as Google Analytics implemented, you don’t have to guess who your users are, what devices they use, and in which contexts.
Based on the time of the day, browser, and device, you can optimize their experience, making it as effective and pleasant as possible.
So let’s say your mobile users are mainly nocturnal, you can customize the mobile version to adjust lightness accordingly. Another example could be that users tend to browse on their way to work. In that case, you could allow them to listen to the content instead of reading it.
These are two examples that might, or might not, work depending on the website’s purpose, but that could make a difference.
2. Mobile-only markets
Besides knowing your audience’s needs, it’s also vital to know where they are located.
Certain markets, like African countries and India, have mainly mobile-only users. This means that, if you provide a shitty experience, most likely you will lose a lot of clients since they don’t get to see your website differently.
3. Apps could be an alternative but they don’t always work out
Apps are great when we need them, otherwise, they’ll fill up your phone. Also, some make the experience worse rather than better.
IKEA comes to mind. The principle of the app is great, but the UX needs a lot of improvement. One of the big problems is that there’s a conflict between the app and the website, making it difficult to add items to the shopping list. In this situation, I would rather have a mobile version that, similar to the app, would allow me to add items and find them in-store.
Additionally, in a time when people are trying to declutter their lives – including their phones – forcing them to install additional content will only annoy them.
A word of advice: unless it saves time, money, or makes life somewhat better, avoid creating a new app. Go for a spectacular mobile-first approach instead.
As designers, it’s essential to know which approaches are used to design online experiences, as well as what mobile-first means.
In a world where 4.18 billion of the population are unique mobile users, it’s unquestionable to make websites mobile-first. That way, the world will become content first as well.