Over the past year, I've written a few times about the importance of building websites with a mobile-first mindset. With a significant number of people relying on their mobile devices to access the internet, this is important, but there are some businesses that have taken this to the extreme and are designing their sites to be mobile-only. If you're developing an app, this is fine, but for a website, it's not a smart business move to ignore desktop users.
I'd venture to guess that you've probably already experienced what I'm talking about yourself if you've pulled up a website on your phone and bookmarked it to revisit later on your computer only to find that the desktop version of the site looks like a magnified version of the mobile site.
As a business owner, it's important to create the best web experience for your audience regardless of their device screen size. Neglecting to do this can cause frustration among your audience and can even lead to missed sales opportunities.
In the early days of mobile internet, web designers handled the mobile/desktop issue by creating mini-sites dedicated to each device. Of course, this creates its own challenges. At the time, mobile internet was slow, WIFI in phones didn't exist, and data plans were extremely limited and expensive. To encourage people to use mobile internet designers would limit the amount of content on the mobile version of the site. Think of it as almost a "Cliff Notes" version of the desktop website. The idea was to get mobile users the most pertinent information they needed and that's it. While this worked, the problem they created was two separate versions of the website. Once many of the mobile sites were launched, they were all too often forgotten and would quickly become outdated with old content.
In the past decade, we've experienced significant growth in mobile technology as well as a high adoption rate for mobile web browsing by the public. With this change in consumer behavior, there's been a push for mobile-first website design. But now we're finding that this push has caused some companies to put all of their efforts into designing their mobile sites that they often neglect their desktop users.
While the screen sizes and processing power of phones and tablets have increased significantly in the past few years, they still can't compare to the resources available on desktop computers. So when I see the desktop version of a website that's been overlooked, I see it as a missed opportunity.
So how do we fix this problem?
Most importantly, whether you're working on launching a new website, or redesigning an old one, consider a few things before you just jump headfirst into a new design:
Content comes first
Before the aesthetics comes the content. It's important to first develop the content because design is about communication. The design needs to work in harmony with the content to enhance the user's experience. There should be a message and a clear action you want your audience to take. The design and layout of your website should evolve around the content, so take the time to solidify your messaging and content before you start working with a designer.
Prototype...but not static
While many think that prototyping is no longer necessary, I truly believe that this is a mistake. A good designer knows that it's important to have a solid understanding of the direction of the website before you get into development. The prototyping phase will allow you to choose colors, fonts, and a general layout for the site. Before your designer gets started on coding your site, you need to give them a clear direction. The worst thing as a designer is to be given only a vague idea of what the client wants only to have to make significant changes because what you've come up with isn't what the client had in mind. Prototyping software today allows designers to create interactive designs what will allow you to navigate through the designs as if it were a fully coded site. This helps you to identify problems in the navigation, layout, and user experience before investing in the final coding of the site. This saves many headaches and money as there will be fewer things to change once the site is ready for launch.
Stock photos are dead
Stock photos are great when they don't look like stock photos. The days of cheesy handshake photos and headset wearing support techs are behind us. Your audience expects that the images used on your website relate to you and your business, and add to their experience. There's no reason why your website can't include images that you or your staff have taken. If you don't feel that you have the eye for photography, or don't have the time, consider hiring a professional or talk to your designer. They may have someone that they work with or someone they can recommend. In the end, a relevant image of your business will do more for your bottom line than any stock photo.
Build a responsive design within a framework
To ensure that you've built a solid experience for both mobile and desktop users, your site should utilize two things: Responsive Design and a Framework. While these aren't absolutely necessary to create a seamless user experience across all devices, I've found that the combination of these two elements can help to speed up the development process as well as make for easier updates once the site is launched. A responsive site will ensure that content and design elements are reordered and sized appropriately depending on the device size and screen resolution. The framework is the prebuilt foundation to construct your website on. Don't confuse the term framework with a template, as these are two very different things. A framework is merely a set of predetermined elements that set specific standards and actions site-wide. Think of it like buying a shell house, where you have a foundation, exterior walls, and a roof. These things have been established for you, all you need to do now is figure out where you want interior walls placed, how the floor plan should flow and where to put things like the kitchen, bathroom, and bedrooms. Before you start on a web project talk with your designer to find out if they're using a framework and if it's right for your project.
The most important thing to remember when you're working on any kind of website is that you need to be prepared to offer the best experience to your customers no matter how they choose to access your website. With current technology available, there's no excuse to say that designing websites for desktop users are no longer important. While you can't ignore the mobile market, you shouldn't be punishing or treating desktop users as a secondary audience. Take the opportunity to create a great experience for mobile users, and an even better one for those on a desktop.