With an ever-increasing variety of mobile devices quickly overtaking desktop browsing in overall traffic, mobile support is no longer a matter of deciding whether or not you should do it but how you should do it. Like almost everything in software development trends, there is always more than one way to do it. But from all the trends out there I believe mobile-first will fit the bill best for most people and I’ll explain why.
But first, what does “mobile-first” actually mean? In the simplest of terms, mobile-first means starting your design from the smallest screen you want to support and then incrementally add features/elements to it as you increase the screen size.
Simple enough right? The beauty of it is in the side benefits you get from this simple choice:
When designing for bigger screens it’s easy to get distracted with fancy parallax effects, transitions and all types of flashy elements to show off your front-end skills.
Nothing inherently wrong with that but when you design for smaller screens from the very beginning, given the resource restrictions (screen size, bandwidth, processing power), you end up making a special effort to prioritize the part of your website that matters the most: the content itself.
This philosophy ends up propagating across all screens, which is a great thing, content is king after all.
As you go up in screen sizes it’s easier to stay focused on what’s important and only incrementally take advantage of the newly available resources: every new feature should serve a concise purpose.
When you start your design with a desktop-first approach, on the other hand, your design might rely heavily on a feature that’s only available on the desktop and removing it for smaller screens will most likely result in an inconsistent experience across devices.
Mobile web traffic growth has skyrocketed since the massification of smartphones, by 2016 it overtook the desktop for the first time. Companies are taking notice of this, for instance, starting in 2019 Google now crawls and indexes new websites looking at their mobile version first, which means that a great mobile experience now plays a key role in SEO techniques.
Considering this, it’s a no brainer that if you want to reach the biggest audience you can no longer treat mobile support as an afterthought, but as your number one priority. Mobile-first fits the bill in this regard perfectly.
At the end of the day, there will never be a single approach that works for every single project out there. You might be working on something like a fully-featured web office suite that only makes sense on the desktop, or the mobile market share for your specific product just isn’t there.
But for most, the bottom-up approach of mobile-first will not only deliver great mobile experiences that let you reach bigger audiences but it will also keep you focused on what’s truly important and effectively take advantage of the available resources on every screen. The result is a great user experience everywhere.