I am a believer in, and am trying to be a follower of, the ‘Mobile First’ philosophy which has emerged in the last couple of years. I first heard mention of this concept by Dale Mugford of BraveNewCode who gave a talk at my local WP meetup group, and was immediately hooked. More recently I have been reading Luke Wroblewski’s ‘Mobile First‘ book, which outlines a very compelling argument for embracing this idea.
For those who don’t know, Mobile First is a design and development philosophy that proposes websites and applications should be built primarily for mobile platforms, before considering desktop platforms. The reasoning behind the philosophy is also straightforward: mobile platforms are overtaking desktops as the primary means that users interact with the internet. The statistics are not trivial; smart phone and tablet use is growing exponentially, and 2012 is set to be the year that their use as the most common web access device exceeds that of traditional desktops.
And yet the development industry lags.
Recently I took part in an online poll that asked how many of our projects are built with mobile in mind, and the results were pathetic. Only about 30% of the developers were working on projects that were concerned with mobile platforms.
The resistance to building sites for the mobile market is two-fold: the perceived cost and the perceived benefit. I’ll tackle the perceived cost in another post, but let’s look at a couple of the benefits.
First of all, the obvious: more and more people are using smartphones and tablets to look at web pages. If your site is not properly setup to be viewed by one of these devices, you will lose their attention. If your site is an online business, you will lose customers to the competition that is better prepared.
The second benefit is perhaps more subtle, but in my view the most essential part of a Mobile First strategy: The technical constraints of mobile platforms demand the site focus on its most fundamental purpose. That is to say; bells and whistles and other fluff must all be sacrificed in order to concentrate on what your site is really all about.
When your screen size has been reduced to 3.5 inches, when your choice of font and graphics is seriously limited, when your users attention span is a few seconds at best, you had better know what your site is about. And what it is about had better connect instantly with your visitor, or he is gone.
For developers this is serious opportunity. Too often information architecture is ignored, or worse, left to the people whose job is to make the site look pretty (see: Why Is Your Graphic Artist Planning Your Website?). Mobile First puts function ahead of form, and forces site owners to look at the single most important aspect of their site: what is it they want their visitor to do?
In internet marketing, they call this “The One Thing”, as in, what is the One Thing you want the user to do? In a sales letter it may be as simple as “read the next sentence”. Then, “click the Free Trial button”. They never try to confuse the visitor with more than one call to action at a time.
Mobile First is a similar philosophy. It puts content ahead of all other considerations. It doesn’t mean your site can’t be beautiful, but it does mean that more importantly it needs to be functional. And for developers, site owners, and ultimately users, that is a good thing.