From Mobile-Friendly to Responsive Design | A User Experience Evolution

The ubiquity and utility of mobile phones and tablets have forever changed website design. When these Wi-Fi connected technologies first emerged, the mobile user experience was crude, at best. Over time, however, ever more sophisticated design practices have been perfected, elevating the mobile user experience to wow status (or so dang fluid, you don’t even consider the design).

Mobile Friendliness

Since 2015, Google’s almighty search ranking algorithm has assigned priority to mobile-friendly websites. Such properties, which are essentially small-scale, largely static replicas of desktop sites, meet the industry minimum for delivering a mobile experience: Users can technically access the site content on a small screen. (To see if your website meets Google’s mobile-friendly standard, check out the technology monolith’s webmaster tool.) However, the ‘friendliness’ of this design wears thin when a user is subjected to miniature font, fails to access or elegantly view multimedia assets, or fumbles interaction with a dropdown menu or form. Enter mobile-optimization.

Google's Guide to Mobile-Friendly Design
Google prioritizes mobile-friendly websites.

Mobile Optimization

As mobile use began to rival, and eventually outpace, desktop use, (check out Tech Crunch’s 2018 statistics) designers began intentionally designing for mobile devices. Optimized design centers touch –– instead of click –– interaction, graphic size reduction for improved site loading time, mobile-unique functionality (think ’swipe right’), and site reformatting that delivers a simplified-yet-cohesive navigational experience.

Typeform mobile design
Typeform optimized its site for mobile use.

Responsive Design

Mobile-optimized design represented the first considered mobile user experiences; however, responsive design now reigns supreme. It’s in the name: Responsive design ensures websites effectively ‘respond’ to screen size, immediately reorganizing content to utilize available real estate. This approach ensures the accessibility of a property’s unabridged content, and it doesn’t force the user to exact awkward-on-small-screen commands, like zooming or scrolling.

Steven Caver responsive website design layouts
A beautiful responsive design, courtesy Steven Caver

Future Thinking

The evolution of mobile design, from friendly to responsive, is an interesting study in how human behavior and preferences dictate experience design parameters. Now that mobile use has eclipsed desktop use, mobile-first design is certain to see its golden age.

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