“Mobile-first design” is a term marketers and designers love to throw around (in part, because it sounds so damn buzzy). But what does it actually mean, and is it here for the long haul?
The way web design used to work, developers would create a desktop website first, then build an entirely separate mobile site.
Once smartphones started becoming more popular, companies like Google flipped this strategy on its head. They created a single site that worked on all screen sizes, and focused first on designing for mobile devices, instead of desktop computers. Hence… mobile-first design.
Hot N’ Cold, Yes and No
Take it from Katy Perry, mobile-first design has pros and cons. If not used strategically, you can end up with a website that’s “wrong when it’s right”.
For example, a designer who gets too zeroed in on mobile may create site that works perfectly for a smartphone, but feels sparse as the Sahara desert on a 27-inch iMac.
Take a look at this design from INSTRMNT. On an iPhone, the site works fine. Beautiful, minimal photography makes it easy get a quick look at their products. But on a desktop computer, the site feels empty.
The lack of copywriting and inbound marketing elements are lost opportunities to engage users and get them to take action.
The Future is Not Mobile
I know, I know. That sounds crazy, considering how much time most of spend on a mobile device. What I really mean is your smartphone won’t always be this tiny rectangle you have to hunch over.
Virtual reality, holograms, and augmented reality are just a few science fiction-esque technologies that will move “mobile” experiences out into much larger projections.
I’m not saying we’re all going to have personal gesture-based devices tomorrow (à la Tom Cruise in Minority Report). However, it’s important to remember that humans are visual beings. We will always enjoy more robust experiences—staring up at the Colosseum in Rome or sitting in the front row of Yankee Stadium.
All this is to say, take mobile-first design with a grain of salt. The best strategy is always a balanced one.