One of the really neat things I’m finding about the whole mobile-first approach is, that it harkens back to the first days of the web. I’ve been designing web sites (hehe, ok, not so proud of a lot of them, and there are alot of folks a bazillion times better at it than me) since the very early 90?s- i remember when someone first mentioned to me “hey, have you heard of this thing called the World Wide Web? I hear its going to be AMAZING!”. Back during the days of very rudimentary html, the “blink” tag and dial-up modems. Back then, we had to design pages to be ultra-lean, with images that were ultra-optimized so that they would download as quickly as possible. I’ve never forgotten those days, and to this day, one of my biggest pet-peeves is bloated, un-optimized graphics. Drives me nuts. Seems like modern web design has thrown alot of that practicality out the door.
So how does me being a dinosaur relate to a mobile-first strategy for responsive design? Glad you asked. heheh. It makes you take a cold, hard look at your content, evaluate what the goals for your site are, and how you can display that to your audience in the most speedy, lean manner, while still making it appealing and enticing. Feels like to me that alot of modern web design has become sloppy- many designers don’t think about image size and how “heavy” a page is with code. With 100mb+ connections and 3G/4G etc speeds, for some designers, it doesn’t seem to be a worry any more. The moblie-first philosophy makes you step back and reevaluate and focus on what is truly important. You think about the performance of the site because you have to- someone using it on a phone, may not have a spectacular connection. So you make it lean and to the point. You prioritize.
With mobile-usage experiencing such growth (my site has seen its mobile usage double- just since July!), its truly becoming the platform of choice, so it makes sense to optimize for our main audience- which is rapidly becoming the mobile platform.
I don’t see alot of disadvantages to this approach. Going mobile first can mean that you might have to make some design compromises on the larger screens. For example check out http://nd.edu On their home page, they have those three content boxes on the top on the left of the page. On mobile, they are perfectly sized- gorgeous. However, in my opinion, on the desktop, they seem a bit small- that space could be better utilized i feel. I think it was probably just their implementation, but in order to work around that, you’d have to put more time/effort into alternative stylesheets for the desktop version. Not knocking ND- their site is light years better than mine! Just a friendly critique.
As far as Higher Ed is concerned, I think the biggest issue is getting people to understand that things need to be prioritized- that we need to take a cold, hard look at what our audiences truly need- not just what we think they need for content. Or what we think we have to put on the home page just to please our bosses. Higher Ed is famous for its glacial speeds when trying to accomplish things and also for over complicating things. Making a lean/mean mobile-first site is going to be a challenge- clearing out the cruft and making it truly audience-focused.
While it might be a bit of a bear in Higher Ed, I will and already am advocating for a mobile-first design approach. It makes perfect sense-
1. Our users are more and more often using the mobile platform. One day they will be the dominant.
2. We need to play to our audience- if mobile is what they are using, we need to display the content for them in a format optimized for mobile.
3. Its lean, fast, prioritized content. Puts the information they are looking for front and center- which makes solid design sense.