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Be Responsible: Think Mobile First

On May 25, 2010, Ethan Marcotte coined the term responsive web design (aka RWD). Since that day, digital marketing agencies began their journey into this new landscape. The idea was that one website could be viewable and digestible on any screen, independent of the user’s device (laptop, tablet, smartphone, etc.); the website’s layout would flow fluidly from large to small and back to large again. Responsive web design provided the opportunity for brands to reach on-the-go users much more efficiently.

As a direct result, these same agencies had to start presenting arguments to convince their clients to buy into this new model, one that costs more up front (but lasts longer over time), is more easily maintained (only one code base), and reaches more users every day (and everywhere). Additionally, RWD acknowledged that just because users are away from their computers or tablets, it doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t want immediate, real-time access to information about a company’s offerings.

In 2012, responsive web design was ranked as the #2 Website Trend for the year magazine. The idea of RWD had reached the masses, and now clients were asking for responsive websites to maximize their viewership across devices. At this time, I believe most people (excluding developers) saw responsive as designing for the large screen and then making sure the site still looked good on the small (smartphone) screen.

Mobile reaches the inflection point.

In January 2014, a major shift occurred in the digital landscape. It became clear that time spent on mobile devices now exceeded time spent on desktop (and laptop) web access. Mobile traffic grew 81 percent in the last year, and mobile has twice the number of unique visitors. Mobile is now the key way to engage and retain users. The mobile device is immediate and always contextual. It is how people navigate their world both literally and figuratively.

Time for a new attitude

Knowing that most users are now getting a brand’s online presence on a mobile device, shouldn’t brands adopt a new attitude and shift the majority of their dollars to engage users in this new, interactive manner? One where they could reach out to each customer, in real time, and in a uniquely personal way? To not just design responsively, but also responsibly? In fact, if a brand has to choose, isn’t it far more fiscally responsible to optimize for the mobile platform and make what users are seeing on their desktops the second priority? To say responsive web design finally means to go from small to big, and not big to small as we originally treated it? To start using the phrase mobile first and actually mean it?

The one thing we have learned through this entire journey is that the mobile experiences that succeed have one thing in common: convenience. By having your mobile presence offer users a convenience they will use repeatedly and recommend to their friends, you are making a lasting impression for your brand—an impression that will lead these users to come back to your site because they experience joy rather than frustration.

Let’s face it. Mobile consumption is here to stay. The “interactive” message is going to continue to evolve, and it will always be the key component as devices come and go, even when the device is actually an environment and not a device at all.

Being responsible

Designing responsibly, instilling convenience, and optimizing your brand’s mobile experience require up-front planning and a well-honed strategy. When exploring ideas for your new site, here are some important considerations:

- Host a breakout session to discuss and imagine ways you can make your mobile users’ experience with your brand richer by anticipating their needs at each step in their journey.
- Take time to interview your customers and ask them what would make their lives easier when interacting with your brand, product, or service.
- Spend time in the environments where your users will be interacting with your site, and then create unique experiences for each touch point (on the street, in the car, in the store, and after the transaction).
- Create and follow a content calendar for your site. Schedule new content (promos, events, etc.) to be released on a consistent basis to keep your site fresh and dynamic.