Mobile First Design: What It Is and How to Implement It
By Jash Unadkat, Technical Content Writer at BrowserStack - March 11, 2021
Mobile devices are at the forefront of the digital revolution that has taken place in the last decade. With approximately 50% of overall web traffic coming from mobile devices, the internet has become a mobile-first marketplace.
Widespread usage of mobile devices to access the web has led to new development methods like mobile-first design which encourages mobile-friendly web design.
This article describes mobile-first design in detail. It will also help users incorporate the mobile-first methodology for developing device-friendly apps and websites.
Let’s begin with a fundamental question.
What is Mobile-First Design?
As the term suggests, mobile-first design is an approach in which web designers start product design for mobile devices first. This can be done by sketching or prototyping the web-app’s design for the smallest screen first and gradually working up to larger screen sizes.
Prioritizing design for mobiles makes sense as there are space limitations in devices with smaller screen sizes and teams need to ensure that the key elements of the website are prominently displayed for anyone using those screens.
Designing and developing for small screens compels designers to remove anything that isn’t necessary for seamless website rendering and navigation.
Highly recommended read: How to make websites mobile-friendly
How Mobile-First Design Came into the Picture
Earlier, websites were often developed with the assumption that they would be primarily accessed from desktops. Eventually, developers made an attempt to modify these websites by cutting down some functions to enhance browsing on mobile or tablet devices.
This approach of scaling down the websites is popularly known as Graceful Degradation or Desktop-First approach.
A downside to this approach is that several web elements do not adapt well to smaller screen sizes. Consequently, this degrades the visual appearance of websites on smaller devices.
To address this problem, developers came up with another approach – Progressive Advancement or Mobile-First Design. This approach was primarily introduced by Luke Wroblewski around 2010.
This approach encouraged designers to begin the website designing process for the smallest devices first and then add more functionalities for bigger screen sizes.
Why is Mobile-First Design Critical?
Mobile devices have become an integral part of the present web landscape and will continue to be vital for the future as well. As mentioned in the beginning, mobile contributes to approximately half of the overall web traffic.
One must also bear in mind that the number of mobile users has surpassed desktop users back in 2016. Overall mobile users continue to grow with a leading market share of 56% as compared to desktop users. (Refer to the graph below)
To add a few more statistics
- Smartphone users tend to spend an average of 3 hours and 15 minutes on their phones.
- Millennials spend more than 5 hours on their smartphones per day.
- There are 9000+ distinct mobile devices. Want to run a quick compatibility test across real devices? Try now.
The stats above clearly reveal how users across the globe are slowly shifting from desktops to mobile devices. Naturally, it would make sense for web designers to prioritize their efforts with a mobile audience in mind and follow the “mobile-first” rule in product design.
Is your website device-friendly? Find out using this free responsive checker tool by BrowserStack.
How to Implement Mobile-First Design approach in Product Design
Now let’s understand how designers can put the mobile-first approach into practice by considering the following scenario:
Let’s assume a web designer needs to work on a website for a restaurant. Since the designer needs to follow the mobile-first approach, they must think about what a user will expect from a restaurant website on a mobile device.
Designers must identify the primary things that an end-user is looking for while accessing a restaurant website on a mobile device. Given the user is on mobile, it would be safe to assume that they are mainly searching for – operating hours, exact location, contact details (or click to call button given it’s mobile). On the basis of these assumptions, the page can be designed precisely as follows.
In the case of Tablets, users have more space and probably more time to explore the website. Designers can leverage this by adding more functionalities or information regarding the food menu (images), or chef details as displayed below:
When it comes to desktops, web designers have all the required space to showcase more details. These details can include blog posts, images of party events recently hosted, the ambiance, or contact forms. This will help promote and advertise the restaurant better.
Following the approach above will help designers build websites keeping the mobile audience in mind. Additionally, expanding functionalities for larger screen sizes will also be easy to accomplish for teams.
Do you know: What is the ideal screen size for Responsive Design?
Best Practices for Mobile-First Design
At a high level, web designers must bear in mind the following best practices to ensure mobile-first web design:
1. Prioritize Content
When it comes to mobile-first design, designers must bear in mind the fact that content is the key. As there are space restrictions on smaller screens, web designers must ensure that the most critical elements are prominently displayed since those are the ones users will actively look for.
2. Provide Intuitive Navigation
Intuitive navigation is of utmost importance when it comes to delivering a neat and clean user experience on mobile devices. Web designers can leverage features like navigation drawers (using Hamburger menus) to display secondary elements of the website. This will help users to find the necessary information easily.
3. Avoid Disruptive Pop-ups
As mentioned frequently, mobile devices have space constraints and no user likes to be accosted with sudden pop-ups or advertisements taking over the screen. Website owners or designers must only focus on what’s important for users and provide them with things they are looking for in the first place.
4. Test on Real Devices
The most effective way of ensuring that a website delivers optimal user experiences across devices is by testing them on real devices. This helps designers verify whether the website renders as expected across mobiles, tablets, and desktops.
BrowserStack’s mobile testing lab provides teams and individual testers with 2000+ real devices and browsers for instant testing in real user conditions. Moreover, developers can leverage the local testing feature to test in-progress websites on real devices in internal development servers.
BrowserStack also offers individual users or teams an intuitive Responsive Checker tool. This tool allows users to instantly view their websites across different device types like mobiles, tablets, and desktops. This enables users to verify whether their websites render correctly as expected on specific devices.
Increasing numbers of web users across the globe have shifted from desktop to mobile devices for accessing the web and the trend shows no sign of stopping. Consequently, it makes sense for designers to develop websites keeping the mobile audience as a priority.
Incorporating a mobile-first design will not only help businesses reap the rewards of mobile growth today, but will also prepare them for the explosive growth that is predicted in the coming years.