If someone asked you how many lakes there are in the U.S., you’d probably pull out your smartphone and have an answer within seconds. (The answer, by the way, is around 250.) When you’re on the go, you want answers fast, and thanks to that web-cruiser in your pocket, there’s no need to save your questions for later. In fact, by 2025, an estimated 72.6% of internet users will only access the web through their mobile devices — that’s roughly 3.7 billion people.
To meet these customers where they are, your website needs to feature a mobile-first design that is easy to navigate, read, and browse. Mobile-first design is taking priority among designers, search engines, and visitors alike. What does that mean for you and that new website you're planning to build for your brand? Learn the ins and outs of mobile-first design in this guide.
Mobile-first design is when a website is built to prioritize viewing and navigation on smartphones and similarly-sized mobile devices, as opposed to primary viewing on computers. This design principle takes into account the cramped constraints of a smaller screen first and foremost. Larger screens like laptops and desktops are secondary in mobile-first design, although those versions of the website are still beautifully designed.
When you go mobile-first, there are some obvious pros, like built-in accessibility for the billions of smartphone users and the consideration of smaller spaces. Let’s unpack a few more perks.
It’s important to know that mobile-first and responsive design aren’t the same, even though these terms sound similar. A mobile-first site is responsive. However, a responsive website isn’t necessarily mobile-first. The biggest difference between the two is the web developer's path to site building.
In short, responsive websites are reactive: They “shapeshift” to fit the confines of various devices with the initial blueprint using a desktop as the framework. Mobile-first responsive design is the opposite. Here are some of the most significant differences between these two approaches.
|Smartphones are prioritized. This is a conscious decision to cater to smartphone users. Going mobile-first means your viewers should have an optimal mobile experience out the gate.||Smartphones are secondary. Responsive web design requires more work to accommodate smartphones. Modifications bend the content’s structure to fit different devices, but the content and layout will determine how easily it adapts.|
|Short and sweet. Prioritizing the layout of your site on a smartphone is ideal for minimal content. There’s no room for fluff — the priority goes to getting visitors from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible.||More room for content. Responsive design benefits information-focused websites since there’s physically more space on the screen to display information. It’s also easier to fit more complicated calls to action and lengthy forms.|
Now that you know what mobile-first design is and why it’s important, let’s break down the pragmatic tips for a successful design strategy.
Curious what a mobile-first design looks like in action? These examples demonstrate how some popular brands cater to the smartphone-first experience.
YouTube’s mobile-first design applies the best practices of web development for smartphones by prioritizing content and intuitive navigation. When you look up the online video sharing platform on your phone, the single-column layout features recommended content at the top and an easily expandable comment section. Plus, if you scroll a bit below the fold, there’s a “playlist” of content for you to enjoy next. It’s no surprise that YouTube, the second-most visited website in the world and a Google property, is designed to be mobile-first.
The media conglomerate has its online content arranged hierarchically, so the latest news stories and episodes are at the top of the homepage. The hamburger menu in the top left corner is easy to spot, and when you tap it, the menu options are legible. Sure, there’s a bit more text than YouTube, but the content isn’t overwhelming. MTV makes it simple to find what you’re looking for or to effortlessly browse.
Now, a newspaper will have even more text than the first two sites combined, but it can still exercise mobile-first design best practices. Pioneering the mobile-first newspaper web design movement, the Chicago Tribune has its name right up top, and it gets right into the latest news stories. They know that their readers came to read the news, so they make it accessible.
The vacation rental company Airbnb has a mobile site that also employs an information hierarchy — starting with the most important form, which directs users to input the time and location of their intended stay. It gets straight to the point, and then just below the fold, it has a CTA to learn more about hosting and sharing your space to earn some extra cash.
The tech giant is known for its sleek, sophisticated, and minimalist style. Their mobile site has all of the basics of good web design — plus an attractive touch that compels users to browse their latest offerings with stunning imagery of the latest products. Oh, and its load time is impeccable.
Billions of folks around the world spend lots of time with their small-screened companions. And for many, a smartphone is the primary device used to access the web. As a result, mobile design is no longer a “nice to have” or an afterthought. When it comes to building a website, it’s essential that phones are prioritized before laptops and desktops. Tools like Namecheap’s Site Maker can help you every step of the way in building an accessible, mobile-friendly website — no coding skills required. Just remember to follow the tips above to ensure an unbeatable user journey.