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What is mobile first website design?

You’ve heard of it – but you’re not 100% sure exactly what it involves. If you’re researching what mobile first web design is, you’re in the right place. As a highly experienced B2B website design agency, mobile first web design sits at the heart of every project we work on for our clients. It isn’t just a ‘nice to have’. If your website doesn’t display well on a small screen, you’ll be losing out on a whole load of potential customers. Read on to find out what mobile first responsive web design is, why it matters, and what implementing it involves.

Mobile first website design explained

First, let’s pin down the answer to the all-important question, what is mobile first web design? As the name suggests, it’s all about putting mobile devices first when designing and building a website.

In 2021, the number of global mobile internet users reached 4.32 billion, revealing over 90% of the world’s online population accessed the web via a mobile device rather than a desktop. The balance between desktop internet access and mobile devices first tipped in late 2016, with more people using mobiles and tablets than desktop machines. Since then most sites have been moved onto Google’s mobile-first index, which prioritises mobile first web design in the search results. 

Web designers started producing designs specifically for mobile devices first a few years ago, when it became clear that’s where people’s – and Google’s – priorities lay. It makes a lot of sense since there’s such a dramatically different user experience. Prioritising design for mobiles makes sense when smaller screens come with such serious space limitations. This compels designers to remove anything that isn’t necessary for seamless website rendering and navigation, and also means content creators need to bear small screens in mind. While all websites were once developed primarily for desktop access, mobile and tablet devices now dominate search.

In a nutshell, if your site isn’t mobile first your prospects and customers will struggle to use it. They’ll be likely to click away to another supplier whose website they can use and enjoy easily on a small screen.

Why is mobile first design important

Mobile first responsive web design belongs at the top of every web design and developer’s list. So why is mobile first design important? For a start, small screens are here to stay. People like to carry the internet around with them, something they do very effectively through mobile phones and other devices. The tech will change and develop along with new discoveries around materials and technology, and people’s inclinations and habits, but it isn’t going to go away. In our web design Oxford world, we always put mobile first.

In a world where mobile devices have become an integral part of online use, you can’t afford to ignore the online experiences your customers and potential customers want and expect. Nor is the number of mobile users going to fall back in favour of desktop machines. Mobile first responsive web design is the present, and it’s also the future.   

If you’ve ever tried to use a mobile-unfriendly website on a small screen, you’ll know how impossible it is. It’s just annoying, frustrating, and time-wasting. It isn’t the kind of experience you want to give your audience. Websites need to work just as seamlessly on a mobile device as they do on a bigger screen. And that means they can’t include anything non-functional, poorly designed, or that takes up too much space.

How to implement it into your site design

You want to implement mobile first web design. Let’s take a look at your priorities. First of all, your designer should identify the primary things the average end-user is looking for. It’s common sense most of the time. If you have a cafe website to go with your bricks and mortar presence, you’ll need to prioritise your location, opening hours, contact details, and booking system.

Bear in mind mobile users are looking for an efficient, clear user experience that takes them exactly where they want to be quickly and simply. The information you provide, given the small amount of space, needs to be short, sweet, eloquent and inspiring, focused directly to the needs of visitors to each individual page.

It’s just as important to avoid things like complex menus, buttons and links that don’t work, dense walls of text and information that put people off, and over-large imagery that takes an age to load - or won’t load at all. It happens.

Mobile screens are a lot smaller than tablets. You can see how scaling things up gradually will give people the perfect user experience. Your mobile-first web design can then be scaled up to tablets, making the most of the extra space. When you keep the overall look and feel consistent, people enjoy a cohesive, therefore influential, brand experience.

Best practices for mobile first design

Obviously a mobile-first ecommerce website development process is crucial for getting things right the first time, every time. It’s invariably harder – and more expensive - to re-do a poor design than it is to design properly for mobiles in the first place. Here are some essential best practices to follow.

Avoid disruption and pop-ups – You don’t have the space to include pop ups and other distractions. You need to focus carefully on your core message for each page, including the exact information the user expects to get rather than the things you want to say – always vital in marketing. And you have to keep it really short and engaging. Otherwise it’ll look a mess and be hard to consume. 

Prioritise page content  - Pin down the core content for each page. It should grab the audience’s attention, hold it, inspire them to read on, fulfil their expectations, and tell them what to do next via a call to action. All that in a very small space. It’s possible but it’s a tough marketing task, one that’s usually best left to the experts. 

Make the navigation intuitive and easy to use – You’ve probably done it yourself. If you come across confusing navigation, slow navigation, complex navigation, or navigation that just doesn’t work, you’ll go somewhere else. At every stage in the journey, people should feel confident they’ll find what they need quickly and smoothly. It’s a trust thing too, and a brand equity thing. If you can’t rely on the website, can you really rely on the company?  

Test the site on actual devices, in the kind of circumstances your customer base will come across – Never assume. Always test the entire site on the type of tech used by your audience, from mobiles through tablets to desktop machines - and the same goes for different browsers. You can only claim it’s a great job once you know for sure the site works perfectly on every type and size of device.

Mobile first responsive web design from seasoned experts

Now you’re aware of all the things to take into account to create a fully functioning website that everyone can use, enjoy, trust, buy from... and tell their friends, colleagues and family about. Mobile first web design is critical for any reputable business wanting to make the right kind of online impact, the kind of impact that can lead to a healthy, fast-growing bottom line. As an Umbraco agency, we make it easy.

Can you do it yourself? Or will you partner with an expert web development Oxford based agency with all the right experience in mobile first web design? Feel free to contact us to explore the potential, ask questions, and know more.

You can phone us on 01844 888777, email us on,

or use our online contact form. Let’s make brilliant things happen for your company.