3 Steps to Make Mobile First a Reality for Your Brand | Insights

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How to mean it when talking about ‘mobile first’ for your brand

September 2023

  • Ariel Hitchcock, UX Lead
  • Kirby Shulman, Director of Projects

From social media apps to our ongoing need to kill time on a bus, sofa, or grocery line, phone and tablet users drive the majority of web traffic. In fact, there’s a good chance you’re reading this article on a mobile device right now. (Safely, we hope.) 

And when your brand needs to attract a wide audience, your focus probably echoes a longtime cliché in digital design: Mobile First.

But despite this industry-wide imperative, mobile devices are often an afterthought when it comes to creating projects for your brand. Mobile may be part of the plan, but desktop designs are usually the first aspect reviewed prior to a campaign’s launch. Mobile first may be a buzzy catch phrase in response to audience behavior, but its ideals are meaningless if your team doesn’t value how your project looks on a phone or tablet when planning a campaign.

Maybe we need a shift in language to avoid neglecting a crucial part of your audience — and your business. Let’s start by ensuring your brand sees mobile as a priority.

‘Mobile first’ has made progress — but needs to go further

Mobile first has come a long way in terms of design and development best practices. Sites that responded to a user’s screen size, platform, and orientation didn’t exist until the term “responsive design” was coined in 2010. Now, it’s a given that any digital experience needs to be consistent on every device. Google went a step further with mobile-first indexing, which views content from mobile sites as the search engine’s primary focus. 

However, when it comes to planning your next campaign, your brand may still be following outmoded ways of thinking. In some ways, the disconnect is understandable. Engaging mobile experiences are challenging. The screens follow different rules for design, which means layouts can appear less exciting than their desktop counterparts. 

If the desktop still showcases your best designs, your team will continue to see the mobile site as an afterthought. You can ensure you’re living up to the ideals of mobile first by keeping 3 guidelines in focus.

1. Align content priorities with your mobile experience

With roots in print publishing, the area on a page that’s “above the fold” is what readers see first in any layout. Consequently, content that’s closest to the top is reserved for the most important parts of your design. Space is limited, so your brand’s content priorities need to be established before any project can be designed. 

For a mobile site, your screen size is dramatically smaller, which means you have even less real estate for a CTA or other critical information. You and your stakeholders need to make difficult calls about what appears first, which can lead to infighting between stakeholders.

But imagine the possibilities of truly viewing a project from a mobile first perspective. When you prioritize designing for the desktop, its mobile counterpart feels like an ongoing struggle to take valuable content away. However, if your brand really designs for mobile first, then every design decision for the desktop is built on adding more detail to the experience.

When you’re working with the right digital agency, you can affirm your mobile priorities by working together to clarify the details of your content strategy. Viewing content through the lens of your goals guides the hard decisions associated with designing mobile sites.

Ultimately, a strong mobile site balances the needs of your business with the need to deliver an engaging user experience. You may not have room to display everything you want “above the fold” but a strong design will ensure your audience sees what happens next.

2. Understand screen interactions function differently on mobile

Comps for mobile sites can appear less engaging than their desktop counterparts because they follow different rules. We can design an interesting animation or hover effect to appear when a mouse pointer lingers over a button. But those interactions will be lost on a mobile device and miss over half your audience.

If your brand really wants to support a mobile first approach, you need to devote as much effort to how a touchscreen responds to interactions. Planning where and when these interactive moments appear in your mobile site ensures its design offers as much (if not more) excitement as your desktop experience.

Plus, once you’re committed to a mobile experience, you need to further consider how accessibility impacts your designs function. Taking an inclusive approach to how your projects are designed requires designing for the differing abilities within your audience as well.

3. Know your audience and design for their needs

More than half of total web traffic comes from mobile users — and that number is climbing. However, your brand isn’t targeting the whole internet with a campaign. You’re focused on your customer. Your design should reflect their habits and how they prefer to connect with your brand.

Before you design a site to support any campaign, you have to dig into the research behind who is buying your product. Understanding the age range of your target audience and the environment where they’re interacting with your brand will inform what device you prioritize first.

For example, your user data may reveal most of your customers primarily use tablets, which requires accommodating user interactions through a touchscreen and a mouse. Or, maybe your biggest audience is coming from social media, which most users are accessing on their mobile devices. In either case, you have the information you need to drive a true, mobile-first approach to design.

The unfortunate fact is, mobile first often has as little bearing on a project’s resulting design and development as “surprise and delight.” Both phrases describe outcomes that would bolster any brand’s connection with their audience, but only mobile first provides the real possibilities for adjusting your perspective to ensure your project’s design matches the expectations of its audience.