Mobile-First UX Design Is No Longer a Trend, It Is Essential!
Updated May 5, 2022
Why You Need Mobile-First UX Design!
When I first studied design in college one of my professors asked, “What is good design?” And everyone in the class did their best to come up with an answer. I mean, good design is good design, right? But even back then it was not that easy or straightforward.
Good design in large parts depends on what you are designing, and who you are designing it for. And this is especially true when it comes to mobile-first UX design, and providing the best possible mobile-first user experience.
You see, mobile-first UX design can take lots of different approaches. And there is definitely no single best solution. Instead, there are special considerations that come into play in mobile-first user experience design.
UX design principles for an app intended to run on a desktop computer will be much different from effective mobile UX design considerations.
Even within an umbrella category like “mobile-first UX design” there are differences between designing a mobile app and a mobile-first website. When users download an app, they don’t just want the mobile version of the website. They want a unique experience that justifies the time they spent downloading the app.
Mobile-first user experience design can no longer be overlooked in 2022. Worldwide, more people access the internet from their mobile and tablet devices than from desktop computers. Ignoring mobile users is no longer something that business owners or marketers can afford.
To help you do better let me outline some basic mobile-first user experience design considerations and principles.
Mobile-First UX Is Critical in 2022
I still hear some business owners, and even some designers, tell me that mobile-first design is not really on their horizon or agenda. Here is what I say to them; like it or not, mobile-first user experience design is the only way you can go in 2022.
This is not up to you any longer. The percentage of global web traffic on mobile phones has surged over the past decade. As of February 2022, 57.38 percent of all web traffic came through mobile phones.
And according to Statista, in 2022, mobile phones accounted for approximately 65.2 percent of the total web traffic in Asia. This was an increase from the previous year after a slight decline in 2019 and 2020.
Mobile users are looking for a better mobile user experience. Mobile-first UX design simply means that you have to put mobile users and their needs before desktop users. So, what exactly is mobile-first web design?
What is Mobile-First UX?
Up to recently designers primarily focused on desktop versions of websites and relied on a variety of methods to make desktop sites render on mobile devices. For the most part, this produced less than acceptable results. Enter the mobile age.
More than two-thirds (67.1 percent) of the world’s population now uses a mobile phone, with unique users reaching 5.31 billion by the start of 2022. The global total has grown by 1.8 percent over the past year, with 95 million new mobile users since this time last year. This means the demand for mobile-first websites has never been greater, nor will it diminish any time soon.
With the focus shifting towards mobile-first development this will only increase the need for mobile-first design, and by extension improve the mobile-first user experience. Instead of starting by designing the user experience for desktop screens, and dumbing it down from there, we see a shift to mobile-first UX design.
We now need to create user experiences for small screens and add enhancements for larger screens later.
The Importance of Mobile-First UX Design
Have you noticed how many people around you are glued to little glowing screens? It may seem at times that we spend more time in the virtual world of our devices than in real life already in progress all around us.
Be that as it may, the majority of consumers are using mobile devices. I have previously covered the importance of mobile-first web design. But you will do much better if you consider mobile-first user experience design as much, if not more.
Of course, you should focus on mobile-first web design considerations! But also ask yourself if your online presence really provides the best user experience for your mobile audience.
Are you really considering how your audience will interact with your website or online store on a mobile device? Are you making that easy enough for them, or are you simply frustrating them?
What Does Mobile-Friendly Mean to a User?
A mobile-friendly website is one that responds or changes based on the user’s device. This could imply that the website transitions from a three-column layout to a single-column display. Unnecessary elements are hidden or shrunk to allow more important information to reach the viewer.
The following are advantages of a mobile-friendly website for a user:
- Faster loading times
- Less data consumption
- Better user experience
- Easier navigation
What Does Mobile-Friendly Mean to a Business?
Visitors to your website are there for a reason: they came for your content and user experience. But if your potential customers meet poor layout, inconvenient navigation, and images that refuse to load, they are likely to abandon your site and go to one of your competitors.
You will gain the following advantages by optimizing your website for mobile:
- Better search engine ranking
- Increased sales
- Higher conversion rate
- More loyal customers
How Mobile-First User Experience Design Works
With an ongoing shift from image-driven sites to primarily content-focused sites, the small screen gives both designers and business owners, and marketers new opportunities to benefit from the latest trends in mobile-first UX design by focusing on the content while working within mobile devices restrictions.
Simply put, a mobile-first user experience design is a content-first design. By simply focusing on the most essential information you will be able to increase usability and user engagement. Which in turn will reduce your bounce rate and increase your conversions. Which is what you want from your website, right?
Why You Should Care about Mobile-First UX Design
Is your site designed for mobile-first usability? Mobile-first web design is the new normal. There is a very good chance your target audience is viewing your website or online store from their phone or tablet, instead of their desktop or even laptop computer.
You may ask yourself if you should rebuild your existing site to make it mobile-first, or if mobile-first UX is worth the extra money. Let me provide you with some food for thought.
It is Worth Your Investment
Even back in 2016, Moz.com talked about the value of mobile-first web design and user experience. Many business owners believe that hiring a web designer or agency is simply about the look of their website.
But there is much more to it. You are hiring experts to help you determine the best design interactions. How will your website visitors engage and interact with your online presence, and find what they’re looking for in the most pleasing way possible? That, in a nutshell, is mobile-first user experience design.
The basic difference in mobile-first UX design is manipulating mobile user behavior through design, rather than simply focusing on a visually improved redesign.
Mobile UX design takes into consideration the user’s probable response to the User Interface (UI) and aligns the design of interactive elements to meet mobile user expectations and achieve a certain objective, such as clicking on your CTA link.
The need for this level of mobile UX design often requires a rework of existing sites versus a top-layer re-skin. As mobile consumers outnumber desktop users, the importance of designing experiences for mobile screens becomes more important.
But trying to transform an outdated, legacy website into a desirable mobile-first user experience is difficult, if not impossible. Compare that to a ‘mobile-first’ site which, is created to leverage the extra capabilities of mobile devices.
It’s Not What’s Next. Mobile-First is Now!
There has been a fundamental shift in user behavior. Up to about 2016 websites were primarily designed for desktop users. Mobile versions of sites, if they existed at all, provided a rudimentary experience at best. With the increase of global mobile consumers, it is only natural that user behavior and expectations changed as well.
Today desktop experiences are primarily focused on enterprise applications. But even for corporate or enterprise-level websites interactions must be also available via mobile devices. But primarily leisure activities, including consumer shopping, social interactions, surfing the online world, etc. are mainly reserved for mobile devices.
On average, Americans spend 2 hours, 54 minutes on their phones each day.Reviews.org
This report from Oberlo clearly shows what percentage of internet traffic is mobile in 2022. “Our phones have become our connection to the world – sometimes they even provide us with the safe space we need. And more – we can shop, we can book a restaurant or our family’s vacation on our phones, or just spend some time on our favorite game app.”
Putting Mobile Users First
By now I should not even have to say this. In any mobile-first design project, the user should always come first, and the needs of mobile consumers are even more important and specific. If business owners and web designers don’t cater to mobile users’ needs, those users will very quickly move on to other websites, apps, or distractions.
The following are a few things designers can do to meet the specific needs of mobile users and improve the overall mobile-first user experience ever more demanding and sophisticated mobile consumers have come to expect.
Here is what I recommend:
Navigation on mobile sites and apps needs to be more intuitive than it is on desktop sites. Users need to be able to immediately identify how to get around a mobile app or website. This can be achieved through recognizable design patterns (such as hamburger menus) as well as recognizable icons (a “home” icon for the home screen, a chat bubble for messaging, etc.).
For example, most websites have a navigation menu in the page’s header, with various elements arranged horizontally. When you access the same page on a mobile device with a responsive design applied to it, you will notice the same menu arranged in a drop-down format, allowing you to see all the elements on the smaller screen.
When mobile users tap on menus, they expect the content to be easy to navigate. Using Google Analytics or other clickstream tools, identify the sections that your users are visiting the most and display them on your hamburger menu.
You could also include visual navigation in the main content area so that mobile visitors can see your primary products or service categories right away.
The main tenet of mobile-first user experience design is this: if users have to think about how to navigate, they’re more likely to disengage from the website, or close the app and look for a simpler solution. Is that what you want?
Create a Seamless Experience Across Devices
Here is another critical mobile-first UX design rule. Make sure that when a user is accessing content on an app, mobile website, or desktop website, the transition between using them is seamless. The design elements should mirror one another, such as using the same colors, fonts, and interactive elements.
Not only does a seamless mobile-first user experience make things easier for people using a website or app, but it also builds trust and reinforces your brand image across all devices.
Make User Objectives a Priority
The goals a person has on a mobile app or website are probably different than those they have on a full desktop site. For example, on a restaurant app, a visitor is likely going to want to view the menu, make a reservation, or get directions.
Most likely they are not looking up the full history of the business on their mobile phone. You can improve the mobile-first user experience by hiding that info in menus or submenus.
Mobile-first UX design requires you to think through what a user actually wants to do on a mobile app. One key element that often gets overlooked is basic usability. For example, banking apps often ask for a login in order to do anything on the app.
But finding the location of the nearest ATM should not require the user to sign in. Making those features easy to access is a great way to improve UX.
Improve Mobile Experience For Return Buyers
It is cumbersome to enter credentials and data into mobile devices without a proper keyboard. If you value returning visitors, have a mechanism in place to prevent them from having to redo the work from scratch.
Many online visitors switch between different devices. Creating a seamless experience for your returning visitors will continue what they were doing in their earlier session. This includes making sure that any data or information they’ve entered on another device isn’t lost during the handoff.
Keep Things as Easy as Possible
When a consumer visits a website or app on their mobile device, they want to complete the task at hand as quickly as possible. Make completing necessary tasks as easy as possible, and you will automatically improve the mobile-first user experience. Eliminate everything that is not absolutely critical for the task at hand. Making necessary tasks simpler on a mobile interface is also key.
For example, many e-commerce apps and sites offer a camera option for inputting credit card information. Rather than typing in a card number, shoppers can aim their camera at their credit card and the app will automatically read the number.
Use Established Gestures
Once again, I should not even have to mention this. You need to consider established gestures people are already used to using on their devices. Things like pinching to zoom or swiping have become intuitive for most users and should be employed whenever possible. Keep in mind many mobile users use one hand only.
An important aspect of mobile-first user experience design is this; when you decide to deviate from an established gesture for whatever reason you must make users aware of this deviation, either during the onboarding process or when the use case appears for the first time.
Designing for the Thumb Zone
Mobile UX design tends to be a bit different. When designing for mobile layouts there are certain considerations you need to take into account. One of the most frequently overlooked is the size of your touchscreen targets.
While a mouse or trackpad can click with pinpoint accuracy, fingertips, and especially your thumbs are considerably less accurate. According to Adobe, targets should be 7-10mm on a mobile device’s screen. This allows for a fingertip to tap the target without having to aim too carefully.
As I already mentioned, another mobile-first UX design consideration is making your site or app passes the thumb zone test. The thumb zone is the area of a phone’s screen that can be easily accessed with the thumb when a person is holding their phone with one hand.
Putting the majority of interactive content (and particularly calls-to-action) in this zone is vital to creating a positive mobile-first user experience.
Less is More
It’s important for mobile-first user experience design to cut out as much clutter as possible. Minimalism is your friend when it comes to mobile apps and websites. Trying to cram everything included in your desktop UI into a screen that’s a fraction of the size makes the design look cramped and can be overwhelming. And that provides a really crappy mobile experience!
Focusing on user goals and expectations, minimizing navigation options by using sub-menus, and generally eliminating any element that is not absolutely essential for users to do what they need to do will create a more streamlined and user-friendly UI.
Don’t Forget the Details
While cutting out the on-screen clutter, do not overlook some key mobile UX design details. One of these is making sure design elements have sufficient contrast. Consumers often look at their mobile devices in less-than-ideal conditions. especially bright sunlight can make elements on a screen hard to see. Higher contrast will help to make elements more visible and provide a better mobile user experience.
Typography is another key consideration. Titles and headers should be easy to spot, and fonts, in general, should be larger. No one enjoys squinting at their screen to try to read big blocks of text on their phone. Clear headers bulleted or numbered lists and short paragraphs all make the mobile text more legible.
A final mobile-first UX design consideration is the use of transitions and animations. An animation can be an important signal to a user that whatever action they just took did something. Animations and clear transitions between screens or functions in a mobile app are key bits of feedback that create a more satisfying mobile-first user experience.
Focus on Speed
Despite widespread 5G data availability and the advent of 6G networks, many mobile networks are slower than their WiFi or broadband equivalents. And in many parts of the world, 5G is not yet available, and mobile consumers are stuck with even slower data speeds. That means mobile websites and especially mobile apps need to be fast.
If you want to keep mobile users’ attention long enough to generate leads or drive conversions, here are some pointers:
- Keep redirects down: Redirects slow down your site because it takes the server time to locate and retrieve the content that the website requires displaying.
- Compress images: Large images on your website will take a long time to load. Compress or reduce your images to speed up the process.
- Simplify your web design: An appealing website will need a large amount of code and resources, making your site heavier and thus slower. To make the website lighter and faster to load, keep the design simple but elegant.
- Minify your code: Your website has a lot of code, and some of it is unnecessary. Minify your website’s code by removing them, and your site will be lighter and faster.
No matter what you do, it is always a balancing act between not loading content that won’t be used (and using up data) and creating the perception of speed by preloading content users are likely to need next.
Get Mobile or Get Left Behind!
Businesses that do not plan for hand-held devices will fall behind in an age dominated by them. A mobile-optimized website will help you in keeping your customers satisfied while they navigate through your website, regardless of the device they use.
Following these established mobile-first UX design principles will create a better overall mobile user experience for people visiting a mobile site or using a mobile app.
You only have a few seconds to catch the attention of your target audience before they abandon your app or site in favor of one that’s more user-friendly, intuitive, or streamlined. Unfortunately, most often that will be one of your competitors.
Great mobile-first user experience design is becoming more common, and the bar has been raised even further in terms of what users expect from their mobile apps. Therefore, you can no longer view mobile-first UX design as an afterthought.
Instead, you need to focus on the needs and expectations of your mobile audience and provide the best possible mobile-first user experience. We are here to help.
Need Help with Mobile-First UX Design?
Then, if you believe we are a good fit for your web and user experience design needs, let’s talk! We offer a full range of consulting and design solutions for businesses and product brands.
And if you are still not sure how you can benefit from mobile-first user experience design, don’t worry! Our expert team will listen to you, answer your questions, and determine the best way to implement mobile-first UX design strategies on your website or app. It is one of our specialties, after all!
Are You Meeting Mobile-First User Expectations?
Have you focused on mobile-first UX design on your website or app? If so, how has this helped you better meet your mobile user expectations? If not, what is the biggest obstacle you face getting a mobile-first online presence? Do you have other problems with your mobile-first UX design?
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