Mobile First?

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As the push towards mobile oriented design and responsive code takes off and gains momentum, the phrase “mobile first” has become a concept that we here at Beacon are quite familiar with. But what exactly this term means is a little fuzzy and, I think, even open to some interpretation.

The theory is, to create the best design possible you start by designing the experience for the mobile user before designing for the desktop. This is the exact opposite of how it’s always been done, if mobile was even approached at all. This will ensure that the mobile user has the best experience possible and that things aren’t built into the desktop design that don’t translate well to mobile and in turn, short change the user. While this works and is true, I believe that mobile & desktop simultaneously is the best approach. In art school, we were taught that in order to create a painting that had a high level of harmony and organization, it was best to work the entire canvas all at once. I like to think of designing websites in this same way. Instead of nailing mobile down and then migrating to desktop – I rather think of designing first the content architecture for all platforms and then building the graphical framework around this content that works at all resolutions. Also it is best if the visual design is designed specifically for the content. Content first and all resolutions simultaneously, even.

The truth is that mobile will not replace desktop. Not in the way that people might envision that it will. Mobile is definitely where we see the most growth in web traffic but many of the people that are using tablets and mobile devices are also using desktops, especially during their 8-10 hour work windows. Mobile devices are just allowing us to access the internet during a larger portion of our day and is satisfying more of our information needs.

Responsive design, like the devices it services, is about flexibility and accessibility, not one device over another. Therefore the experience needs to be designed holistically, providing all the information and content the user desires over all the platforms they use throughout the day.