A significant shift occurred in 2014 when the amount of mobile web traffic overtook desktop traffic. For the first time it was indisputable that more people were using mobile devices to access the web. The numbers were in and the “chicken or the egg” argument was settled – in order for brands to meet consumers where they are, mobile must come first.  

This shift to mobile-first thinking has spurred a new approach toward digital design strategy. The proliferation of mobile has made omnichannel experiences that unify the user journey between devices and platforms a possibility. Users are trading desktop experiences for mobile interactions that allow them to access information quickly at any moment. Designers must first focus on how to provide the necessary information on a small device, then scale to allow more detail in a bigger surface area. 

The argument for mobile-first strategy

Mobile design must provide the content and information users need when they need it, and it cannot be one size fits all. Brands must focus on their users and design in a way that will address and serve their needs. For example, when a consumer is searching for a place to eat dinner, filtering for options within a set proximity to their current location is a necessity on a mobile device. That same user can be targeted with push notifications for discounts and other offers based on preferences determined from search history or proximity to their favourite restaurant. Desktop online interactions don’t require, or enable, this same level of contextualisation.

Communication that is tailored to an individual facilitates more authentic relationships. The personal nature of mobile allows for a deeper, more genuine connection. Leveraging data to create a more personalised experience is crucial to effectively targeting an audience with relevant content. Mobile creates a unique opportunity for brands to stay at the forefront of the customer’s mind. In a recent study by the Pew Research Center, 46% of respondents said they “couldn’t live without” their smartphone, which supports the common sentiment that we’re a mobile-first society.

Mobile designers should be intentional and focus on being a frequent visitor instead of an unwanted house guest. Staying relevant through contextualisation and personalisation will provide opportunities to build relationships and brand loyalty.

Designing with mobile in mind

Mobile technology has made it easier to address mobile moments along the user journey. As pixels are at a premium on mobile devices, mobile sites and apps require strict and concise design with a focus on the contextual attributes of mobile technology. Designers must make the most out of the limited space available and ensure that interactions and interfaces are as easy to consume and navigate as possible.

Mobile is often the first touch point of the larger omnichannel user experience, and due to the personal nature of the devices, they are a critical piece in unifying the user journey across all platforms. Mobile design should not be disconnected from the design of other devices and platforms. UX must remain consistent across all platforms in order to generate a genuine and lasting brand experience.

With the developments in mobile and the introduction of wearables, there is an increasing need to design for goal-oriented actions. For example, Apple Pay and geo beacons, offerings that are not part of the desktop experience, have reduced friction in digital and in-store shopping. These features are best integrated through wearable devices, with mobile as a close second. However, they become less useful for tablet and desktop use. Designing with desktop in mind rather than a mobile-first approach will hinder the digital experience and limit user engagement opportunities.

Brands can’t afford to put desktop first. Mobile is the primary touchpoint throughout the customer relationship, with mobile digital media time significantly higher than desktop (51% compared to 42%). Therefore, mobile must drive the digital trend.

Mobile is the medium that’s driving user behaviour, and it should be the first priority for any brand’s digital strategy. With a mobile-first approach, brands can target their users more effectively, enable more personal engagement and improve the user journey.