Mobile-First Design: Why It Really Needs to Come First

What’s the first thing you do in the morning?

You might silence your alarm (more than a few times), check your email, the news, social media, the weather — all on your phone.

More than 70% of Americans own a smartphone, and that figure doesn’t even reflect tablet ownership.

So why do web designers still approach the desktop side of a project first?

Mobile should be prioritized, not treated as an afterthought.

Not Just Another Buzzword

It seems like there’s a new marketing phrase to learn every other week.

But mobile-first isn’t just a phrase some bloggers will latch onto and forget in a couple weeks. It’s here to stay.

37% of web traffic last year was mobile, and a third of all e-commerce sales take place on mobile devices (and that number is growing).

It’s no longer ideal to consider mobile users first when mapping the customer journey — it’s essential. But mobile-first means mobile, first.

Mobile-responsive and mobile-friendly do not equate to mobile-first.

Mobile-first is designing for the mobile experience in mind, and then working your way up in device size.

Mobile-First, Not Mobile-Only

Just as mobile-friendly and mobile-responsive don’t mean mobile-first, mobile-only isn’t what constitutes this approach to design.

Designing mobile-first mandates a more a focused and simplified approach. This means certain elements must be prioritized. Because of more limitations, the content must come first.

Mobile can come first, but all platforms require consideration. A multiplatform approach is essential to making sure all of the elements come together.

Users still make the most e-commerce transactions on their desktop computer, even if they’ve done all the research and shopping on a mobile device. If the mobile experience is stellar, and the user goes on their desktop to continue the shopping experience, the desktop must not fall flat. If it can’t deliver on what the mobile experience promised, it’s not conducive to cause the desired user behavior.

Mobile-first sets the stage for the experience, but the rest of the journey must also deliver.

More Than Just a Pretty Face

Designing with a mobile-first mentality makes things pretty on your smartphone, but there’s more than meets the eye.

Google has begun testing its mobile-first index, indicating a trend toward a search experience tailored to the user’s device. When a search is conducted, Google will consider the availability of a mobile experience as well as the desktop experience when indexing.

Although searches are still conducted on desktop, Google will move to favor websites designed with the needs of mobile users in mind.

Email Is Mobile, Too

Just last year, Litmus found that emails had an open rate of 17% on desktop and 27% on webmail, numbers that measure in small against the 56% open rate on mobile.

If email marketing is part of your strategy, that’s a lot of potential traffic to your mobile site. It’s important to meet users where they’re at, and not design for the platform of your preference.

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