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Web Design — And Re-Design — Should be Mobile First

mobile websites responsiveIt’s becoming an accepted industry standard that websites should be designed from a mobile-first perspective, using responsive design to manipulate sites so that they’re clear, easy-to-use, and visually arresting no matter what the dimensions of your screen. This has been a few years in coming, and it’s wonderful that it’s finally here — we’re entering the age when web design is separating itself once and for all from ‘digital paper’ design.

But what about all of the millions of existing websites that are (possibly quite beautiful and effective, but nonetheless) glorified paper layouts on a pixilated screen? The ones that were designed before media queries and adaptive pages became the norm? Unfortunately for thousands of companies across the country, the correct answer is that it’s time to invest in a redesign from the ground up.

Quite often, that means that small businesses — and even some large businesses — aren’t going to be able to handle their website re-design in-house. Running a business is too complex and multifaceted of a task to set aside the manpower to properly develop a brand-new, engaging, modern, responsive website. Turning to an outside contractor to get the job done is going to be the norm for most of the businesses in the US.

Of course, no one should ask you to give up creative control of your website — any intelligent web designer can keep your core elements intact while they manipulate the content to fit on mobile user’s screens. The question that’s going to be a thorn in your site, however, is this: what is your core content?

Selecting core content isn’t always an easy task. Let’s take a familiar example: Blockbuster Video. When you go to the Blockbuster main site, you’ve got a lot of content. It might not look like it at first because of the layout, but if you look carefully you’ll find:

  • The signup for Blockbuster Total Access
  • A link to Blockbuster @Home
  • A link to Staff Picks to help you find the best of the new movies wall
  • Links to 8 specific titles, presumably among the top-rented movies at the moment
  • The Store Finder
  • A link to a page where you can see if a given movie is available to rent at one of your local Blockbusters
  • A link to a page where you can see if a given video game is available to rend at one of your local Blockbusters
  • A link to a page where you can see if a given movie is available to buy at one of your local Blockbusters
  • A link to a page where you can rent or buy-and-download streaming movies
  • And all of the various links to the typical My Account, Contact Us, and so on
  • And all of this is above the fold. there’s a lot more for those people willing to scroll a bit.

Which of that content is “core enough” to make it onto a mobile site? Arguments can be made for almost any of it — it’s all stuff that’s useful to a customer coming to the site. (For the record, the stuff that actually made it onto the Blockbuster Mobile site is pretty limited: a sign-in button, a search bar, the four most popular streaming movies of the moment, and links to the Movies section, the TV section, the Store Finder, New Releases, Top 100, and the full movie catalog, with a tiny little text link at the very bottom encouraging readers to sign up for Blockbuster By Mail.)

Blockbuster could use a website re-design. You can tell because clearly the priorities of the two pages are largely different. Both are clearly focused on telling the customer all about movies they should be seeing — but whereas the desktop page has the Total Access signup front-and-center, the mobile page has almost no sales value to it at all.

By re-designing and fusing their mobile site with their desktop site, the company could be presenting a more coherent front by keeping the signup prominent on the mobile site, putting all of the various category bars inside of spoiler buttons, and keeping the 8 popular titles — just hiding the pictures and making them text links that would be easy for mobile users to follow. Improved sales and usability from the scaled-down version of the site, and the full version for larger screens barely has to change at all.

What’s best, there’s only one version of the page to maintain, so costs are reduced and there’s no scuffles between the Mobile section and the Web team as to what belongs where. One site, one design, one form, one function – that’s how the web of the future should look.

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