The Beginner’s Guide to Mobile-First Design
May 13, 2022
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Author : John Gallagher

A Hands-On Guide to Responsive, Mobile-First Design

At the 2010 Mobile World Congress, then-CEO of Google Eric Schmidt, declared that if web designers wanted to stay ahead of the website game, they should always implement the “mobile-first” rule in their design process.

In the last decade, internet users around the world have gradually trended toward mobile-first browsing.

Mobile-first design is one of the key strategies implemented to accommodate this change.

What is mobile-first design?

Mobile-first design is, as it sounds, the method of designing a website, digital or web asset primarily to satisfy mobile users. As a result, a website’s fonts and coloration, buttons, forms, messaging, and other elements are all specifically designed to render well across mobile devices.

Operating with a mobile-first design philosophy, web designers create online assets specifically for the smallest screens — most commonly, for smartphones.

Since the screen aspect ratio of a smartphone or other mobile devices (such as an iPad) is so limited, the small screen size forces designers to prioritize only the most essential elements of the website.

While mobile-first design is, in several ways, more challenging than designing for a larger screen, it also allows for a simpler approach. Designers must focus only on essential website elements and core functions, instead of the complications of a full-screen site.

Starting out with a strong, simple foundation allows a web designer to all the more easily add new enhancements and elements along the way; it’s a win-win for users and developers alike.

Why is mobile-first design important?

The purpose of mobile-first design is to create a better experience for users by prioritizing their convenience. Today, that means making sure all users can enjoy a fully optimized user experience while browsing with a mobile device.

As more users gravitate towards mobile internet access on phones over computers, mobile-first design has become increasingly important. The majority of web users are not simply using mobile devices; they are actually choosing to use a mobile device over a desktop computer, or even a laptop.

Mobile website access continues to grow in popularity.

More than 50% of web users access websites exclusively through mobile devices

. As the number of exclusive mobile users grows, mobile-first design will become an even more important tool in the skillset of the best UX and UI designers.

How do UX and UI affect the mobile experience?

The way a consumer interacts with mobile-first web features will differ drastically from the desktop or tablet experience.

On a larger device with a wider screen, people typically expect a more comprehensive user experience : broader aesthetics, more options, thorough navigation systems — overall, a more in-depth interface.

When the same users interact with web assets on a smaller screen, they typically expect more of a streamlined experience: fewer aesthetics, basic navigation and only the most important options.

In other words, mobile-first design maximizes a simple, clean experience from the first web touchpoint to the last.

Best practices in mobile-first design

Like other web design methodologies, mobile-first design is founded on a set of best practices.

Here are a few different ways to fully optimize your virtual assets for mobile UX:

  • Ensure buttons are finger-friendly;
  • Minimize or eliminate need to zoom in;
  • Increase page loading speed;
  • Make forms easy to complete;
  • Embed static social media icons.

These and other mobile-first strategies govern web design strategies on a daily basis.

And just because we want to equip you with all the tools you’ll need to succeed, here are four bonus tips we highly recommend you incorporate into your mobile-first design methodology.

1. Prioritize UX touch accessibility

Steve Hoober, a UX expert, discovered years ago that

most users hold their phone in one hand

and use only their thumb to navigate, when accessing a website on their mobile device.

Importantly, a thumb is a lot bigger than a mouse cursor. Make sure that all buttons, call-to-action hyperlinks and other interactive elements are given plenty of space.

2. When it doubt, keep it simple

Web designers are virtual artists; anyone who says otherwise has never watched a web designer at work. This means that to an untrained eye, mobile-first design might initially feel a little oppressive. You, or anyone reviewing mobile-first design work, might be tempted to request a dynamic background video or a high-resolution landscape photo.

While these elements are sightworthy, they do not contribute to a simple, quick-loading mobile design.

When in doubt, just keep it simple.

3. Hack your site’s navigation bar

There’s a surefire hack to appropriately size down your website’s navigation: embrace the hamburger menu.

A hamburger menu — a menu icon with three stacked, horizontal lines that somewhat resembles a hamburger — offers a far easier navigation method for mobile users.

4. Test, test, and then test some more

Changes in phone sizes, navigation methods, even mobile-first design best practices mean that testing is still the name of the game.

To accommodate any new evolutions in mobile-first design, it’s important to continually test potential website designs on different-sized mobile device screens.

Also, don’t forget to test the same designs across different web browsers, to gauge whether your users’ search engines affect layouts, load speeds or other web assets.

Continue to test designs on mobile platforms — even after you’ve taken designs live.

You’re 4 weeks from next-level UX design

Trends in web design will come and go with time. Some become pillars of design best practice (example: tap target sizing) while other strategies are eventually replaced.

One cornerstone element of modern web UX — mobile-first design — is certainly here to stay. As mobile consumers continue to drive Ecommerce sales, website traffic and social profile usage, designers will need to find new ways to make the online mobile experience easy and meaningful.

Mobile-first design isn’t going anywhere. The faster you can integrate mobile-first design best practices into your normal website design process, the faster you can take your web optimization and UX skillset to the next level.

Here’s the good news: you’re only four weeks from an elevated UX design skillset, one that includes foundational principles in mobile-first design.

Our team of highly qualified instructors provide a mentor-led, hands-on approach to mobile-first design education, in a way that will allow you to immediately begin implementing the different strategies into your practice.

Are you ready to level up your business or web design career? We’ve got you covered.

Reserve your seat today in our next four-week, 12-week or 24-week UX/UI Design Bootcamp, to learn how you can create a seamless experience for all mobile users.

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