BY: NEIL TURNER

The tipping point: Why it’s time to truly think mobile first


The mobile first approach is exactly as it sounds: designing for the smallest screen and working your way up. Apparently a third of Americans would rather give up sex than their beloved mobile phone! (So says a recent survey – don’t worry no mobile phones or sex lives were harmed in the name of science). This would imply that either Americans are really, really attached to their mobile phone, or that they’re perhaps missing a trick or two in the bedroom. I suspect that it’s more the former, than the later (although only a quarter of Brazilians would give up their mobile, read into that what you will) because the humble mobile phone has undeniably become an integral part of people’s lives across the globe. I think that it’s fair to say that mobile is now what some might call a “game changer”.

 

truly think mobile first

Photo by Marc Smith

A Smartphone society

According to Ofcom the UK is now a Smartphone society (whatever that means) and Smartphones have overtaken laptops as the most popular device for getting online. I suspect the same is also true in many other countries. Indeed, in much of the World the mobile is pretty much the only way for much of the population to get online, let alone their preferred

method. You only have to look at the fact that nearly half of Facebook users now only use Facebook to their mobile to see that mobile has well and truly stolen desktop’s ‘Most popular’ crown.

When it comes to Smartphone ownership and usage we’ve not just hit the tipping point, that point in time when a majority of people widely adopt a previously rare practice or technology, we’re now practically freewheeling down the other side of it. Whereas even 5 years ago Smartphones were perhaps the preserve of techy’s and gadget lovers, now it seems that everyone has one.

 

Our collective love affair with the Smartphone has serious implications when it comes to thinking about and designing the user’s experience, because it means that we really do now have to think mobile first. I know that “Mobile first” is a phrase that has been thrown about for a while time now (Luke Wroblewski has been writing about it since 2009), usually by people in business suits who don’t really appreciate what it means, but we’ve reached the point where we need to not just talk about it, but actually do it. We need to change our mind-set by truly thinking and acting mobile first. This means…

Mobile first concepts

When considering new ideas and concepts for products and services we should be thinking mobile first. How would this work on a mobile? How can we provide users with a fantastic mobile user experience? How can we utilise the amazing power of modern Smartphones to create innovative and compelling products and services?

Mobile first design

Rather than designing the desktop experience first, and then stripping this back for mobile, we need to turn this around. We need to design the mobile user experience first, and then consider the experience on a desktop. We need to start with as simple a UI and feature set as possible, and then consider what if anything needs to be added for desktop and tablet. As an increasing number of products, such as Spotify and Evernote demonstrate, a clean and simple UI works just as well on desktop as on mobile.

Mobile first user journeys

When considering and mapping out the end-to-end user journey we will need to think mobile first. Not only is mobile sure to play an important role in the user’s journey, but it’s increasingly on a mobile that a user’s journey will begin. Get that first step wrong and the user’s journey is likely to be much shorter and much less sweeter than we’d have liked.

Mobile first minimum viable product (MVP)

When thinking about what our minimum viable product might look like we should increasingly be thinking mobile first. What does a mobile MVP look like? What key user goals and features do we need to concentrate on? What is the minimum UI and feature set we can learn from?

Mobile first responsive design

When building a responsive website we should be starting with the mobile version of the site, not the desktop version as is so often the case. We should focus on creating a responsive design that is quick and lightweight on a mobile before we start worrying about what the site’s going to look like on a massive 32 inch monitor.

Mobile first prototyping

If we are to practice mobile first design, then we also need to practice mobile first prototyping. I’m afraid that a Photoshop mock-up of what the design will look like on a shiny iPhone simply won’t do. We should be building mobile prototypes in order test designs on actual mobiles and to help bring them to life on the sort of device they’ll actually be used on. Fortunately mobile prototyping is now increasingly easy with the ever growing number of mobile prototyping tools out there.

Mobile first user testing

If the success of a digital product or service is increasingly dependent on the mobile experience on offer then doesn’t it also make sense to start with mobile user testing? We should be breaking free from our user testing labs and test designs out in the real world, you know, in the sort of places where people will be using their mobile. With tools such as UX recorder to record mobile user testing sessions, and services such as usertesting.com that allow mobile designs to be quickly tested by real people, on real mobiles, mobile user testing is not the daunting task it once was.

Mobile first designers

At the moment you tend to get a lot of mobile specialist designers. The hallowed few that have a number of good mobile projects under their belt and can no doubt charge a small fortune if they choose to freelance. With the rise of mobile, all designers need to become mobile designers. Even if a designer isn’t specifically designing for mobile, they should know how. With the rise of responsive design, not to mention interfaces such as Windows and Android which have an established mobile friendly design language, the lines between desktop, mobile and tablet design are becoming increasingly blurred.

So is the desktop dead?

No far from it. There’s a reason that I’ve just ordered a shiny new laptop computer because desktop is still king for many things. Indeed I’m writing this very article on a laptop computer and whilst in theory I could write it on my mobile, I fear that attempting to do so would be a somewhat frustrating experience.

 

Laptop and desktop computers will still be with us for a long time, and so will the need to design for them. However there’s no denying that mobile is only going to play an increasingly significant part in everyone’s lives and for this reason I think that it’s about time that we all started to truly think mobile first.

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