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How Mobile-First Design Is Really Content-First Design


For any web developer, digital strategy goes way beyond creating content for marketing channels. They are the ones actually building the channels! For some developers, the coding requirements stop at desktop and mobile. But what about tablets, TVs, or even smart watches? Herein lies the great design challenge of the 21st century: How do we develop for every device from big to small? It requires thinking mobile-first.

The Graceful Degradation of Coding

Embracing a mobile-first strategy requires your team to rethink every part of the content creation process. Development has traditionally begun by designing for desktop and then converting that code for mobile use in a manner that can be best described as “graceful degradation.”

The process of graceful degradation starts by developing functionality for modern desktop browsers and optimizing the user experience on these devices. This experience degrades gracefully (hopefully) as functionality decreases based on screen size (mobile devices) and technical limitations (older desktop browsers). Design may be affected, but the goal is to maintain basic performance on all devices.

The Growth of Progressive Enhancement

Mobile-first design switches this convention and instead touts a new philosophy: progressive enhancement. At its base, progressive enhancement simply means focusing on your content. For designers and developers this requires a backwards way of thinking – content first, then style.

By using mobile to set the base of your user experience you can design and develop to add advanced functionality when screen size or technical specification change. This process encourages development of minimally viable products (MVP) and shortens project timelines. As an added bonus, focusing on content development and then adding enhancements get your message out faster.

Rethinking the Content Creation Process

Your website visitors don’t care about the code, so why put the code first in your development? The content first approach makes you focus on the most important part of your messaging, encourages your team to be innovative, and keeps you prepared for the future as mobile use continues to rise (64% of U.S. adults now own a smartphone).

By taking your content creation mobile-first, it helps you:

  • Design based on how content is consumed on a smaller screen which helps ensure a better user experience on any device – mobile, tablet, or desktop.
  • Focus on your content without losing your message to design restrictions that occur with graceful degradation.
  • Streamline your messaging to reach a mobile audience (on smaller screens you need to make a bigger impact faster).
    Maintain a simpler platform make is easier to apply new features or adapt past requirements.
  • Create a more flexible design process (with content as the framework it makes it a “feature add” process vs. a “feature dependent” process).

Content drives mobile-first design and development. With more content being consumed on mobile devices, designing mobile-first is now a requirement for marketers.