Should I design “Mobile First”?

I guess the best place to start is with the question, “Why Mobile First?”

Mobile First Philosophy:

  1. Allows websites to reach more people (77% of the world’s population has a mobile device, 85% of phones sold in 2012 equipped with browser)
  2. Forces designers to focus on core content and functionality (What do you do when you lose 80% of your screen real estate?)
  3. Lets designers innovate and take advantage of new technologies (geolocation, touch events and more)

Start From The Bottom Up

Utilize Progressive Enhancements Not Graceful Degradation

The biggest and most key aspect of mobile first design philosophies is “Progressive Enhancement”. In earlier forays into desktop to mobile schemes as well as responsive design methods focused on shoving the content from the desktop experience into a tiny little screen which, let’s be honest, does not provide the best experience for the end user. In all reality, it often makes for a pretty painful experience.

That’s where “Progressive Enhancements” come in.. The idea is to start with the basics of the site. The content. From there, parse out what features are absolutely necessary to provide a useful experience to a user on the smallest screen size. Now, As the screen sizes of the devices get bigger, add features that work well within the given screen sizes all the way up the desktop experience. The key focus on the process is the usability and the experience.

Scaling up from the mobile context versus scaling down from the desktop context ensures that your message, content and functionality remain intact as the screen real estate and connection speed increase. Scaling down runs the risk of your core message and functionality getting lost by the time you squish it all the way down to the mobile context.

structure content first

As it turns out, content is important. Really important. This means creating strong and purposeful content is of utmost importance. Think of your site’s content devoid of any interface. Ask yourself why anyone would care about it. If you can’t confidently answer that question, I’m afraid no design, no matter how adaptive, can help you.

Structuring content first creates content focus and hierarchy. It’s about constructing your message and telling your story in a way that’s meaningful to your users and is cohesive in whatever context they may be in. It’s preparing your content to go anywhere.

The one thing everyone can agree on is that a strong content strategy is becoming increasingly important. At the end of the day, devices will come and go and technological trends will wax and wane, but content, business goals and user goals remain. So while different factions will argue over the best way to display content, at least we can agree that creating purposeful, versatile content is one thing to strive toward.