I’m sure you remember the days when Flash (then Macromedia, now Adobe) was launched and everyone had a splash screen with rotating Enter button. It was a must have for all. The rest is history.
I’m sure you might have seen the data suggesting that there are over 1.2 billion mobile web users worldwide. In the U.S., 25% of mobile Web users are mobile-only and they rarely use a desktop to access the web etc. This only means one thing — create websites essentially targeting for mobile devices (and do it as soon as possible).
Everyone has their own definition of what Mobile First is. Let’s quickly simplify and define the concept: Mobile First is about creating websites/applications targeting mobile devices first and then expanding the same to fit the desktop and other bigger screens. Essentially, mobile is a good starting point for everything. Please keep in mind, it is NOT ‘Mobile only’ concept, it also supports other devices and sizes.
Ok, so the idea is great: we must design websites/applications which should work perfectly on mobile devices and provides exceptional user experience. We must include all of the essential website functionalities for the mobile users too. The keyword is User Experience, which should be the same no matter what device you use to access the site.
This is all good! However, the question I have is about the approach: why we have to design for the mobile first and then go upwards. Why can’t we keep the “traditional” approach of creating sites with more content first and then refine it for mobile. Just because we would create mobile site at a later stage of the project, it does not mean that we would spend less time working on it and produce mediocre product.
Let me remind you, people still use bigger screens and people tend to do more important stuff on bigger screens whenever possible. It is easier to read and write long articles on bigger screens. Try interacting with complex applications on mobile, it is always easier to do the same on larger devices (desktop/laptop). Multitasking and many other jobs you can do better on larger screens. Believe it or not, mobile can not provide the same user experience as larger devices because of the obvious reason — limited size. Try watching a movie on mobile, you would like it more when you watch it on larger screen (too obvious for an example.)
“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” — Mark Twain.
A long letter could just be a beginning, we surely can refine it, rewrite it and make it perfect eventually. The same could work for “Desktop First” concept. Let’s start writing content for desktop first (more, detailed content) and then evolve the same for mobile (refined and less content). Keep in mind, It’s not about the larger or smaller screen, it’s about context. When you start with larger screen and more content, you will have an opportunity to refine and rewrite it — to make it better and use it for mobile site. If it is for a web application, let’s start with more content and input fields, all the content and fields you could have, start doing usability, get feedback, start eliminating fields you don’t need and eventually you will have a better site with minimal number of fields which will result in better user experience. What Desktop First concept does, it creates the better end product — a mobile site.
Make the site responsive, adaptive or whatever you call it — end of the day you would have different content for different screen sizes. If mobile (smallest size) is the most critical for you, choose an approach which allows you to have more time to work on your content (rewrite it, test it, refine it) and it is only possible if you start with a lot more content (AKA Desktop First approach).