Mobile First Design Sometimes Doesn't Make Sense

In order to be a successful UX/UI designer it is important to understand that no single methodology can solve all of your client's issues.

Posted by Matthew Farleo on 28th May 2018

As the internet has evolved and technology for viewing the internet has changed, digital designers have had to adapt to a variety of methods to successfully create their work. How digital space is designed is directly related to how it is accessed, and that can be seen simply by looking at how websites have evolved over time. Initially they were largely text-based affairs, because internet speeds were appallingly slow. As internet providers increased speeds users began to see websites with larger images, and as mobile devices started being able to browse websites had to have other cached versions to display on these lower resolution devices.

A key aspect of being a successful user experience designer is understanding how your digital products will be accessed by its users and tailoring your designs to that technology.

What is Mobile First Design and Why Do People Use it?

Mobile-first design is a pretty common design methodology that has grown around the use of a phone as the primary means to view websites and access the internet. This method goes about creating the design of the website based around the screen of a phone and then allowing the website to expand on larger browser windows and devices. This means a company needn’t design multiple versions of the website, but build it responsively. A responsive website is a single website that displays itself differently (responsively) depending on what device the website is viewed on.

Mobile-First design came in response to an increasing number of people only accessing the internet via their smart devices, basically phones and tablets. The trend really picked up steam when Google announced that they would begin to lower the search ranking of sites that didn’t display successfully across all devices.

While it is important to ensure that your digital product can be used across all devices and access points, designing a fantastic experience for your users can sometimes mean focusing on creating a delightful desktop experience.

When Mobile First Design Does and Doesn’t Make Sense

Obviously ensuring your website or web-app displays across all devices in crucial to its success, as if you don’t there are entire segments of the population that will not be able to access your website. A recent study suggested that over 50% of all internet traffic is mobile based, so not creating a responsive site is downright foolish. Most websites that are purely informational (brochure-esque) should be designed in a mobile first manner, but in some cases it doesn’t make sense.

Designing mobile first means starting with bare-bones and working your way up. Mobile first lends itself to the K.I.S.S. (Keep it simple, stupid) way of thinking, which isn’t a terrible way of thinking, but can leave utterly delightful experiences by the wayside. Creating a web-application that will be used 90% by desktop users, can focus on putting on a solid desktop experience that pulls out all of the stops (interactions, animations, etc) and be a more bare bones experience for mobile users, a much smaller segment of the audience. Desktop, laptop and tablet computers have access to more technological power and as such can produce much more engaging experiences, and if that’s the means that your primary user group will engage with your website, focus on producing a solid, delightful experience for them.

Understanding who is going to be using your product and what technology they will be using to access your website or app is key to building a successful digital product. It allows for the user experience team to focus on crafting the most engaging experience within the budget for the specified user groups, focusing on the user’s favored technology.

While it is important to ensure that your digital product can be used across all devices and access points, designing a fantastic experience for your users can sometimes mean focusing on creating a delightful desktop experience. That means that sometimes, a mobile-first methodology just doesn’t make sense and it is important for the UX team to recognize when to use what method.