Mobile First Web Design — More Than Just A Good Idea

Photo: Facebook generated $5B of economic impact in Canada last year. DeloitteIn the summer of 2012, Facebook had zero revenue from mobile products. By the third quarter of last year, 66%  of their global ad revenue came from mobile and the forecast for next year is 75%. Is there really any doubt that there is a mobile transformation underway? 

Facebook Nearly Missed the Mobile Boat

In 2012, Facebook realized that a major change had taken place when they studied their most important measurement:  time spent. Jordan Banks, Managing Director of Facebook Canada, calls this change a seismic shift. The realization was a tough one as they had focused virtually all their resources on desktop capabilities. Their iOS and Android apps at that time were abysmally slow and lacked the desktop features we were used to.

The Significance of ‘Time Spent’

You and I might quantify social media success by counting likes, shares, or comments — but for Facebook, the most meaningful metric is time spent. Time spent measures the number of hours expended on a given activity. The year 2012 is pivotal as it marks the first time people spent more time taking in digital media than they did watching television — and the proportion of users accessing digital media on mobile devices is growing by leaps and bounds. We haven’t seen a shift of this magnitude since the 1950’s when television first eclipsed radio.



Why Mobile Matters

You might ask why the shifts in digital consumption matter. After all, the internet is the internet, right?


Accessing a website from a smartphone does not deliver the same experience as a desktop PC or laptop. Buttons may not function properly, screens may require the user to pinch and zoom to read across lines of text… and studies show that users will simply abandon a site that delivers this kind of second rate experience.

Mobile first web design means the site is built to work well on mobile devices. Desktop design comes later. It also means you test your site on multiple mobile devices before releasing it into the wild. This is especially important if you expect visitors to use subscription buttons or fill in forms of any kind. Even social media links that float over the side of the screen — they’re very popular with desktop designers — may need to be replaced with static, smaller buttons that don’t take up too much screen real estate.

Facebook’s Mobile Transformation

CBC’s Amanda Lang interviewed Jordan Banks for a January 2015 broadcast. I recommend watching the whole segment (it’s 18 minutes long) but if you want to skip to the part about the organization’s shift to mobile first design, start the video at 9:55.

This link will take you to the CBC Player for The Exchange.

Screen shot of Jordan Banks' interview on The Exchange




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