03/11/2013 09:42 EDT | Updated 05/10/2013 05:12 EDT

Great Web Design for Mobile Devices

Over the past 12 months or so I have been involved in many discussions on designing great web experiences for client that work across desktop, laptop, and mobile devices. Every time I find myself in a situation where the solution suggested by others is about delivering responsive web design and they see cost savings and decide to take that route. In almost every situation I feel despondent and more than a little disappointed.

Responsive web design is a web design approach that aims to provide an optimal and consistent viewing experience across a wide range of devices (from desktop to laptops to tablets to smart phones). It's become preferred, as it is relatively cheap to deliver this compatibility in one go rather than developing a mobile-specific strategy. The idea is that you need one build, one content strategy and one way to deliver an experience to users.

So many people have convinced the world that this is a great solution that people are thinking that this is the solution for delivering a compelling mobile experience (on tablets and smart phones). People think that most designs and content strategies will translate easily with little need for adaption. Well people are thinking with their pockets without considering what people really want from mobile experiences. Would you design the same dashboard for a truck, small car and motorbike. It makes no sense, does it? Each delivers different experiences and needs based on size. It's kind of a stupid approach, in my mind.

The needs of users on mobile devices are very different from that on larger screens and there are three reasons for developing specific strategies for mobile devices:

  1. People navigate with touch not mouses and clicks on mobile devices. Normal menus and content presentation does not make sense anymore. People will interact differently with your brand and think much more visually. This means that the content strategy can be vastly different for smaller devices.
  2. People are on-the-go, have a short period of time for interaction and just want to get information quickly and simply. Being held captive by content and scrolling from a larger website is just not practical. You need to think about the main three things that people need to do and deliver easy routes into making that happen. In addition think about the environments that people use your site in. The context will determine what is needed. If you have ecommerce in your site then people are less likely to buy directly from a mobile device but look for reassurance when they are out looking at other products and seek opportunities to make the on-the-go experience better.
  3. Finally, people still want beautiful mobile experiences. This is a huge opportunity for companies and brands within them. Squeezing a big beautiful website into a small device will always result in a bad experience, On the flipside, even when we design a larger web experience from a small device perspective then we will miss opportunities for engagement that just aren't possible through mobile. Think about great mobile experiences and I challenge you to name any that are not apps or mobile-specific builds.

Companies need to stop letting dollars guide the experiences they deliver to their customers. This is easier said than done however with good design come great results. Sit down and do the math after first asking 'is this experience really going to move the dial and build great relationships'. It's simple ROI calculation and god business practice.

I say, long live smart phone specific design. We're going to need it more than ever in the next few years and, mark my words, many companies will revisit their big build responsive websites within 2 to 3 years of deploying them and will feel a little silly to say the least.