At Kooba we’re proud to call ourselves a ‘mobile-first’ agency.

Globally, a majority of page views worldwides are on mobile devices, but we work with some clients for whom that number is significantly higher - even up to 80% or more. But despite these numbers - which are freely available and widely understood - it remains surprising how often design is for desktop first and with every other device a distant afterthought.

That is almost always a mistake. Although what looks beautiful splashed across an iMac screen might impress a client, what works on a mobile screen for a customer is what actually counts.

Our focus on mobile-first is in fact simply an extension of being an agency that puts the user at the heart of the design process. If the user, or at least a great number of users, access the site on a mobile device, then we’ll design from the outset to ensure their experience is as good as it can possibly be.

We freely admit that this can limit the scope for ‘wow factor’. But we also believe that ultimately ‘wow factor’ alone is almost entirely irrelevant when it comes to success in the field. Fortunately enough of our long term clients agree with us!

It is of course easy to say these things - but harder to put them into practice. In fact many designers and agencies struggle when it comes to bringing mobile to the fore in the design process. Here’s some of the ways Kooba make it happen.

What mobile-first means in practice

Firstly, and most importantly, it means changing things around.

The standard operating procedure for most digital design projects is designing for the desktop screen first and then figuring out what needs to be taken away or re-imagined in order for some sort of vaguely equivalent experience to be delivered on mobile, tablet and all the various screens in between. This is usually called ‘responsive design’.

Mobile-first design is subtly different. It means starting with mobile, designing for mobile, and then asking what can be added as we move up to larger screens. In essence, mobile-first starts small and adds, whereas conventional responsive starts big and takes away.

In practice what that means is a greater effort to think initially about what really matters and what does not (the mobile screen being smaller after all) in such a way as benefits the user experience on any screen. It also means improved UI in every channel - after all, it is easier to add and make bigger than to take away and make smaller.

During that initial process of designing for mobile, a few other approaches we take in Kooba help ensure that whatever we create is as user-friendly and effective as possible on the small screen.

When designing for multiple channels, we take time to understand the requirements of the mobile user specifically. This is important. Understanding common tasks is the basis of any project, but the common tasks of a mobile user and a desktop user may not be the same - even when that user is the same person.

For example, mobile may often be used for simple transactions when out and about, desktop when undertaking more detailed research. If that is the case, the mobile UI may wish to prioritise an entirely different set of tasks. But we cannot do that unless we have first spoken to users and carefully mapped their workflow to the multiple devices that they use in any given day.

Once we have that understanding we have a clear direction for our mobile design. We also have a sense of what we will add and how we might change priorities on desktop.

When designing interactions on mobile, it is important to deliver what might be called a ‘native mobile’ experience. This isn’t the place for a detailed rundown of what precisely this entails (it changes based on the particular situation anyway) but I’m talking about the need to:

  • Keep things simple and respect the limited real estate of the mobile screen
  • Design ‘with the thumb in mind’ and understand the physical nature of the mobile UI
  • Restrict any requirements for input - particularly through typing (note how keen mobile apps are to use PIN or thumbprint login)
  • Reduce page size to reflect the greater likelihood of unstable connections
  • Use interaction methods and approaches that are unique to mobile (that would be missed if we designed desktop first and then shrunk to fit mobile)

That last point introduces my own. It is vitally important to continue to learn in this area. What is possible on mobile and other related screens is changing all the time, and new innovative interaction types continuously emerge.

At Kooba, part of being ‘mobile first’ is to take a proactive approach to understanding the technical possibilities of mobile and how both technologies and user behaviours change. That process in turn allows us to deliver the most innovative - but more importantly effective - solutions for our clients. Across every channel.

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