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'Mobile First' Doesn't Mean 'Mobile Everything'

Submitted by Leo Klein on Tue, 5/3/11 (9:06am)

Boston Globe Logo I was reading about a presentation by Ethan Marcotte on re-designing the web-site for the Boston Globe so of course I headed over to have a look.

The site was okay as things go but a little heavy on the list side together with a spartan application of formatting and layout. In other words, it was about as plain as you can get.

Then I went back to the account of the presentation and read about its "mobile first approach to design":

Mobile First

Why Mobile first: traffic has exploded, new capabilities, and narrow screens force us to focus. In many cases our mobile experiences are focused while our desktop experiences are cluttered. Going mobile first pushes focus everywhere.

While I'm all for designing for multiple devices and while I use a mobile device myself practically the entire day, if that's what you build your site around, you're more than likely to end up with something that looks like it was designed for, well, mobile devices.

You're then liable to short-change yourself on the advantages that layout and formatting can (and should) bring to the larger screen -- characteristics that help organize content and make it more appealing. These things need to be part of the process from the ground up. And when they aren't, it shows.

For a couple of good examples, have a look at the recently redesigned Chicago Tribune and the Sun-Times.

UPDATE: Here's my comment to their staff:

Nice but kind of plain.

Just because you have to design for a mobile device that fits in my pocket doesn't mean you have to strip out all the visual design elements that might make your interface more appealing when I'm looking at it with my 27" monitor.

The goal ought not to be lowest common denominator but best solution for each platform.

UPDATE (10/3/2011):
Similar sentiments expressed by Jonathan Longnecker at .Net Magazine