What is mobile-first design?

Mobile-first design can be summed up in one short phrase: Start small.

“Mobile-first” is a web design strategy that builds and prototypes for the smallest, most restrictive screens first. In other words, instead of designing sites for desktop users, a mobile-first development approach builds sites first and foremost for mobile users.

Mobile-first: the Smartest Way to Design Sites in 2019.


Why is mobile-first a popular design approach in 2019?

Quick poll: who’s reading this on their smartphone right now?

About half of you? That’s what we thought.

For a long time, mobile versions of sites were more of an afterthought in the development and design process — never a driving force.

The increase of brands seeking mobile-first development is a prime example of how businesses are paying attention to consumer preferences; with the steady increase in smartphone ownership, desktop use is on a decline, while mobile use has grown exponentially over the past decade. This shift in web activity has shaken up how many brands prioritize digital content for consumers. Mobile-first sites are made specifically for smartphone browsers and follow certain principles to make them easier to read and navigate on small screens. These include:

  • Simple video and images that visually communicate the mission or goal of a brand.
  • Shorter, concise copy.
  • Ample whitespace to break up content blocks and give readers’ eyes a break.
  • Content focused on the brand’s unique value.
  • More “hidden” content that users must reveal as needed. Rather than risk information overload, mobile-first design gives users options to expand content or see more about a particular point, product, or service.
  • Clear calls to action that occur throughout the site.
  • Repeating opportunities for users to connect, ask questions, or submit information to engage with the site.

These hallmarks of a good mobile first site are quickly being adopted by brands across the web, from Amazon to small local businesses.


We hit the books and found that the trend of “going mobile” is going nowhere but up.


The Age of Mobile Internet

Pew Research reports that mobile internet use is on the rise, as roughly 81% of Americans currently own a smartphone. However, a more telling statistic may be the fact that 20% of adults in America are smartphone-only internet users, which means they do not use traditional broadband service in their homes. Consumers now reach for their phone instead of a laptop to purchase products, transfer money or check stocks, complete forms, email, video chat, contact local businesses, and more. Basically, our smartphones aren’t just phones — they’re our computers.

If you have a website, you can guarantee at least some percentage of your users will access it via mobile devices. Now and in the future, it’s imperative your site is prepared for a large volume of mobile users.

Not all Mobile Development is the Same

When we say mobile-first, we don’t mean mobile apps or even mobile-responsive. So let’s break down the mobile lingo:


Mobile-First vs. Mobile Responsive

Responsive web design automatically adjusts features and layouts based on the screen size of the user accessing the site. The content within the site alters as screen size dictates. However, mobile responsive design is not the same as mobile-first. Mobile-first is a strategy of designing a website, while responsive web design is a way to ensure website features function properly across varying screens.


Mobile-First vs. Mobile App

It’s also important to differentiate between mobile-first design and mobile app design. Apps are designed very differently than websites. While both mobile-first and mobile app designs are built around “touch” interaction for smartphone users, they have very different functions. Apps usually have a very streamlined purpose and usually need to convey less information. They are built for users to perform repetitive actions over time, and offer increased convenience to better perform focused tasks (or to better play games — we all love a little Candy Crush™ now and then).

Websites, however, are usually more robust, offering greater information and actions the user can take. While apps are valuable in their own right, the U.S. Mobile App Report found that the number of mobile browser sessions is two times larger than that of app audiences. Therefore, mobile-first design is an approach that can reach a much wider audience base, and is applicable for a larger percentage of brands.

Though different, mobile-first design strategy certainly draws from some mobile wisdom of app design. Most importantly, mobile-first sites seek to mimic the clear, streamlined user experience that users usually find on mobile apps.

Mobile-First: Is it Right for Your Brand?

Is mobile-first a strategy your business’ website should adopt? The answer is . . . probably. But first, understanding what’s best for your brand means you have to understand how your key audience is using it.

Website analytics can give a clearer picture as to who’s stopping by, how they found you, what they do once they arrive, and what device they powered up to get there. To understand what to improve on, you first have to analyze your current website activity.

If you’re like many brands, your analytics may reveal that a significant percentage of users are accessing your site on a mobile device. When that’s the case, it can be a smart, long-term strategy to develop a mobile-first website that ensures all users can easily navigate and interact with your site.

A mobile-first design may also benefit your brand by:

Helping UX designers create a consistent user experience across all devices. Consistency across your brand is key for increased brand recognition and consumer trust. The more seamless you can make your web presence (across all devices and users) the more positive your users’ experience will be.

Performing better in search engines. We probably don’t have to tell you that SEO is king. The vast number of mobile devices accessing the web at any time play a huge role in influencing SEO rankings. Since mobile devices make up nearly half of all web traffic currently, going with a mobile-first website is a forward-thinking solution to ensure your site has longevity.

Last year, Google announced that it would begin utilizing the mobile version of sites for its crawling, indexing, and ranking systems. Historically, Google had used desktop versions of sites. Google’s transition (made to improve its mobile user experience) says a lot about the importance of mobile sites now and in the future. As more and more Google users (AKA your target audience) expect mobile sites that are easy to use, brands with ineffective mobile sites will be left way back on page 12 of relevant searches.

Preventing some of the pitfalls of mobile use. We’ve all experienced a bad (read headache inducing) mobile web browsing experience. If you land on a page without pinch and zoom capability, or one that features tiny buttons, horizontal scrolling, long blocks of text, and off-centered content, you’ll more than likely bounce out just as quick as you bounced in. These pitfalls can leave a bad impression of your brand with users. Avoid them at all costs with a mobile-first design approach.

Taking full advantage of mobile-specific technology. Mobile devices can lend additional features to a site such as GPS, data-collecting, built-in cameras, and near-field-communication (NFC). Making the most of all the bells and whistles of mobile devices creates a streamlined, more intuitive experience for users.

How can you implement a mobile-first website for your brand?

If you need to build or update your brand’s website to keep up with your mobile audience, contact Ardent Creative. We can build a mobile-first website that will help you capture leads and convert them into sales. Whether it’s e-commerce or a non-profit, government or corporation, you need a website that represents and serves you well on both desktops and mobile screens. Our highly qualified team of designers and developers can bring it to life and ensure your site looks good for every user who accesses it.

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