The ratio of users of mobile versus desktop devices visiting your site is changing quickly. As mobile web use increases over time, the way in which we design for the web needs to evolve to keep pace with that change. Because we know that the screen sizes will be smaller than traditional desktop monitors, we can assume that the phone screen size, either portrait, landscape or both, will be the smallest screen size we need to design for in the near future. (Wearable devices still have a long way to go before we consider their design implications.)
Why Put Mobile Before Desktop
Staying ahead of the curve is one reason to put mobile first. Users have been trending towards mobile devices for years (tablets and smart phones) and now, according to mobithinking.com one out of four users are mobile-only (rarely using a desktop) and mobile broadband outnumbers fixed broadband 3:1. More and more, people will only see the mobile version of your website. Obviously for the 75% that are primarily desktop users, you’ll still want to have a well designed site on the big screen.
The Case for Mobile First Design
“Even with the rise of responsive design, many of us begin with the “full size” site and work our way down.”
Viewing it from a design perspective, “Graceful Degradation vs. Progressive Enhancement” looks like progress. Having to account for browser weaknesses in the design process seems limiting, while being able to progressively add to a website as the screen size increases feels liberating, even if it’s just a matter of perspective. Check out an excellent explanation over at designshack.net about the difference between the two and the implications for responsive design.
From a developer perspective, keeping a website light and fast is a top priority, especially for mobile use and unpredictable bandwidth restrictions. In the mobile first workflow, website elements are added incrementally and can be subtracted if the speed of the website degrades too much.
Designing first for mobile devices and then gradually adding additional elements for larger screens requires a radical change in mindset only the first time you do it. From then on I predict the technical and psychic challenges and rewards will drive your team to start with small screens first.