As you begin to develop the plans for your brand new website, you begin thinking through the approach that you should use. It is at this point that you need to give some serious consideration to mobile-first development.

Research has revealed distinct advantages to a mobile-first approach to development. You may have heard the terms mobile-friendly, responsive design and mobile-first development and assumed they were the same thing. While they are quite similar, they are very different at the same time. We are going to look at these and examine the benefits they may provide to overall traffic, lead capture and conversions.

Mobile-friendly design vs. Responsive design vs. Mobile-first design

Mobile-friendly Design

The term mobile-friendly design refers to a website that allows a user the usability to use your site on a mobile device just as they would on a desktop, with minimal effects on site loading time and functionality. While it may not always be possible for a mobile version of a website to mirror every single function of the desktop version, a mobile friendly site typically aims to meet the majority of its mobile users’ needs.Decisions must be made as to what features to remove from the mobile-friendly version of your site, but once those are made, the end-user experience will be amazing.

For example, while the desktop version of a website might have large hero images on the home page, the mobile version will likely scale down the size of these photos, or remove them altogether to provide a cleaner user experience. Similarly, while a desktop version of a website might display photos horizontally across the page, the mobile version may display these photos vertically for obvious reasons. With this design approach, you may lose some of the functionality a desktop provides, however those are typically functions that are not used as frequently or needed on mobile.

When mobile friendly design first became popular, many businesses were rushing to adapt their existing websites to meet the requirements for functionality. Websites that don’t consider mobile users will likely see fewer and shorter visits, and lower engagement rates, as a result of the longer load times and limited functionality that mobile users will experience.

Responsive Web Design

Responsive web design encompasses the idea of mobile-friendly design, but is also used to describe designing web pages for a variety of screen sizes and orientations. When designing with responsive web design, the goal is to provide the optimal viewing experience regardless of the device in use.

The main difference between the two web design approaches is that mobile-friendly design was originally seen as an afterthought or an add-on to an existing website. Responsive web design is a method used from the beginning of the web development process or in a website redesign. Although these terms are fairly similar, it’s important to understand the differences between them when talking about the history of web design and the progression over time.

Mobile-First Design

For many years, website design focused on creating the most optimal user experience for the largest screen size a user would be on, such as a desktop screen. Designing for mobile first takes that old habit of designing for the biggest possible screen first, and changes focus to designing for the smallest possible screen first.

As smartphones grow and grow in popularity, so does the mobile-first approach evolve and grow. For the many people now using a mobile device to surf the web, mobile web design provided an alternative to the main desktop viewing experience. Thus, responsive web design was born as a solution to having to create multiple web designs – one for desktop, one for mobile, etc. Designing for mobile first takes this one step further and is based on the idea that the optimal viewing experience should be on a mobile device vs. a desktop device.

Decline of Desktop Use

According to recent research, desktop only has dropped from 19.1% to 10.6% since 2014. Mobile only use has been rising with no expectations to slow down. Considering the current trend, desktop viewing is no longer be the norm. This makes it important to optimize on the devices your audience is using, and not those they aren’t. This saves time and financial resources.

The reality is that some aspects of a website that are designed for the desktop simply cannot be recreated on a mobile screen. With that being the case, why wouldn’t you design specifically for a mobile screen? Anything that can be viewed on a mobile version can also be viewed on a desktop version. Instead of trying to fix the issues that often accompany trying to scale a large screen experience down to a small screen experience, starting with mobile works within the limitations of the smaller screen from the beginning. It ensures a smooth mobile user experience and avoids the pitfalls of designing for the desktop first.

By completing your mobile-first design, you can test all features on mobile devices to insure they work. You can then add desktop only features after the fact to ensure those new features don’t adversely affect the mobile version of your site.

The Benefits of Mobile-first Design

If you want your users to have the best possible experience on mobile and desktop devices, designing for mobile first is most definitely the way to go. You won’t have to worry about there being mobile feature constraints, or slower loading times when using a mobile device. Google won’t penalize you either because your website will load fast from any viewing device.

Finally, taking a mobile first design approach allows you to think about what actually needs to be on your site. Instead of trying to fill in all the whitespace with fluff, you focus on what the user actually wants or needs to complete the action. In order to maintain optimal functionality, you’ll work harder to make sure your site is full of only the most critical content and features necessary to help your business succeed.