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Are Your Users Mobile-first, or Not?

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Are Your Users Mobile-first, or Not?

A couple of weeks ago, we attended a workshop on Emerging Trends in Website Design, run by Katie Sherwin, as part of the Nielson Norman Group’s Usability Week in San Francisco that got us thinking about mobile-first web design. With mostly designers and developers in the room, it was an interesting conversation into what people are currently seeing in site design trends, what their past experiences with these trends were, and how the research matches up. The broad theme is that site design, as with many influenced by trends, is dynamic and will constantly evolve. So, learning from the knowledge and experiences of others can help create original and relevant ideas for your website.

With a movement toward “mobile first” design in the last few years, encouraged by responsive design, there has been a shift toward a minimalist look and feel. The benefits result from removing unnecessary distractions, the ability to highlight key calls-to-action and provide faster interactions. In order to fit the content into the smaller screen size of a mobile device, text is first pared down to be as brief as possible. When translating the mobile design to the desktop, the content is essentially “projected” to the larger desktop screen. Coin is a good example for mobile first design:


Yet, it begs the question – is the resulting minimalist design the most effective use of the desktop’s additional screen real estate? How does the mobile first approach impact the desktop experience? Is there a way to incorporate the advantages of all devices or does it require choosing one device experience over another?

Here are a few things we have seen from our research:

  • After switching to a mobile first responsive design, a survey of an auto insurance home page on desktop resulted in a drop in home page appeal by 17%, for prospective customers
      • 58% of users found the site’s home page extremely appealing, down from 70% pre- home page re-design; comparatively, the industry-wide average for the time period resulted in little change, dropping slightly from 54% to 53%


  • After a pharmaceutical company went responsive with their site design, the overall look and feel of the site was characterized as “modern” and “upscale”; however, when scanning the homepage, it was difficult to get a sense of the information on the site
    • “I’m not a fan of the never-ending scroll…Where does staying track start and the next one end?”
  • With fewer words, there is more reliance on icons and imagery to guide users through the site, and the user’s ability to recognize these icons depends largely on their past experience
    • From our qualitative studies, here are some responses that we hear:
      • filter icon “The martini glass?”
      • pill pic   “What is that supposed to be? That’s either pills or a radiator.”
      • deal coupon  “I’m going to go with dining, drinks…and not sure what that is, maybe hotels?”
    • Replacing the global navigation with a hamburger icon (hamburger icon) on the desktop removes some options from the user in plain view, asking them to search to find these topics
      • In several qualitative studies, we have found that users are more inclined to initially interact with the information and calls-to-action on the page versus seek out and explore a menu

The answer to the aforementioned questions ultimately depends on how your target users respond to the minimalist desktop, and what they are looking to do by coming to the desktop site. Are they are looking for information, or is the desktop site a touch point to encourage users to download an app? If researching information, are users trying to get comprehensive idea of what is available or looking for specific content? Will users need to return desktop site at any point or is the mobile app sufficient for their needs?

To answer and customize what best works for your audience, we recommend prototype testing or in-person usability, as a way of creating a cohesive experience, where all devices work in tandem to drive your business goals.

We will be updating our blog with best practices as we discover them!