Mobile First Design - A Complete Overview

Mobile First Design | What It is, Why & How to Perform?

Mobile first design is a design approach that prioritizes the mobile user experience above all else. It involves designing websites and applications with the mobile user in mind first. Then we scale it up to desktops and other devices. Mobile first design not only ensures that the website or application is optimized for mobile devices, but it also improves the user experience, increases engagement, and enhances overall SEO performance.

Mobile first design is no longer just an option for businesses looking to create a successful online presence; it has become a necessity in today’s world.

Mobile-First Design - Annual report by statista
Number of mobile app downloads worldwide from 2016 to 2022(in billions)

As reported by Statista, the number of mobile app downloads increasing every year. Hence, it’s evident that mobile devices are the primary means of accessing the internet. This means that businesses must prioritize mobile users and their experience by implementing the mobile first design.

In this article, we’ll dive into the world of mobile first design. We will explore its importance, benefits, process, tools, and best practices. Whether you’re a small business owner, marketer, or web designer, understanding mobile first design is crucial to stay ahead of the game and succeeding in today’s mobile-driven world. So let’s get started!

Table Of Contents

What is Mobile First Design?

Mobile first design is a design strategy that prioritizes the mobile user experience when creating a website or application. In other words, it’s about designing for mobile devices first and then scaling up to desktops and other devices.

This approach recognizes that mobile devices are the primary means of accessing the internet. And that mobile users have unique needs and constraints that must be considered. For example, mobile devices have smaller screens, slower internet speeds, and touch-based interfaces, which all impact the user experience.

By designing with a mobile-first mindset, designers and developers can create websites and applications that are optimized for mobile devices, delivering a faster, smoother, and more engaging experience for mobile users. In addition, mobile first design often leads to simpler, more streamlined designs. This prioritizes the most important content and actions, making the experience more intuitive and user-friendly.

Improved SEO performance is one of the key benefits of mobile first design. Search engines like Google prioritize mobile-friendly websites in their search results. So by designing with mobile devices in mind, businesses can improve their search rankings and attract more organic traffic. The mobile first design also makes it easier to implement responsive design. This allows websites to adapt to different screen sizes and devices, further enhancing the user experience.

Overall, mobile first design is a crucial strategy for businesses looking to create a successful online presence. By prioritizing the mobile user experience and designing with mobile devices in mind, businesses can improve engagement. This, in turn, boosts conversions and stays ahead of the competition in today’s mobile-driven world.

Mobile First Design Example

Let’s understand Mobile First Design with an Example,

Let’s take the example of a travel ticket booking application, which allows users to book flights, trains, buses, and other modes of transportation. When designing this application with a mobile-first approach, there are several key considerations to keep in mind.

First, it’s important to design the application for the small screen size of mobile devices. This means prioritizing the most important information and actions, such as search functionality, date selection, and booking confirmation. Additionally, we should design the application with a touch-based interface, which makes it easy for users to navigate and interact with the app using their fingers.

Second, we should optimize the application for slow internet speeds and limited data plans. We can achieve this through techniques such as minimizing image and video content, reducing server requests, and compressing data. This ensures that the application loads quickly and efficiently, even on slower mobile networks.

Third, the application should be designed with mobile-specific features in mind. For example, users may want to save their tickets or boarding passes directly to their mobile devices for easy access, or they may want to receive push notifications for flight delays or cancellations. By designing with these features in mind, the application can provide a seamless and convenient experience for mobile users.

Finally, we should design it keeping responsiveness in mind. This means that the application should be able to adapt to different screen sizes and resolutions, allowing users to access the application from a variety of mobile devices. Responsive design ensures that the application remains functional and user-friendly, regardless of the device or screen size.

In conclusion, by prioritizing the mobile user experience, travel ticket booking applications can provide a seamless and convenient experience for mobile users, improving engagement and increasing conversions.

Why the “Mobile-First” Principle Is So Important in Product Design?

The “Mobile-First” principle is a crucial aspect of product design that prioritizes the mobile user experience when creating digital products. There are several reasons why the “Mobile First” principle is so important in product design, including:

  1. Mobile devices are the primary means of accessing the internet: With more than half of internet traffic coming from mobile devices, designing for mobile first ensures that products are optimized for the most common way people access the web.
  2. Mobile users have unique needs and constraints: Mobile devices have smaller screens, touch-based interfaces, and limited processing power, which can impact the user experience. Designing with mobile devices in mind ensures that products are user-friendly and intuitive, even on smaller screens.
  3. Mobile first design leads to simpler, more streamlined products: By focusing on the most important content and actions, mobile first design often leads to simpler, more intuitive products that prioritize the user experience.
  4. It improves SEO performance: Search engines prioritize mobile-friendly websites in their search results, so designing with mobile devices in mind can improve search rankings and attract more organic traffic.
  5. Mobile first design enables responsive design: Responsive design allows products to adapt to different screen sizes and devices, providing a seamless experience for users, regardless of their device or screen size.

In short, by designing with mobile devices in mind, businesses can improve engagement, boost conversions, and stay ahead of the competition.

Read More: Mobile Responsive Testing – A Detailed Overview 

How Mobile-First Design Strategy Came To Be?

The Mobile-First Design Strategy emerged as a response to the challenges posed by the earlier Desktop-First approach. Initially, websites were created assuming they’d be mainly used on desktop computers. Over time, developers attempted to make these sites work on mobile devices by simplifying features.

This process, known as Graceful Degradation or Desktop-First, had issues because many website elements didn’t work well on small screens, making the sites look worse on mobile devices. To tackle this, developers introduced Progressive Advancement or Mobile-First Design.

With the Mobile-First approach, designers started designing websites for the smallest screens first, then added features for larger screens. This ensured better adaptation to different devices and improved the overall user experience.

Content is the Key to a Mobile First Design Strategy.

A Mobile First Design Strategy focuses on designing an application or website for mobile devices first, then adapting it for larger screens like desktops or tablets. One of the crucial principles of this approach is that “content is the key.” 

In this strategy, designers will provide users with only the necessary information and avoid adding redundant information that might distract users. A mobile user’s needs are different from desktop users. That is why you would find major differences between website and mobile design.

Here’s how you can make your website content-friendly,

  • Find the primary goal of your web application and the content needed to achieve that goal. 
  • Research more about your website’s users to understand their needs, behaviors, and preferences. It helps you make the content just right for them and gives them a pleasant experience.
  • Plan and design a content strategy that aligns with your user requirements and business goals. 
  • Create a prototype or wireframe of your website to check the content hierarchy and flow. It helps you find the content gaps.
  • Ensure your content is readable and accessible on all devices, including phones and tablets.
  • Keep track of user feedback and analytics to continuously update the design to create a good user experience for your users.

How is Mobile First Design different from Responsive Design?

Mobile-first and responsive designs are both approaches to designing websites and applications to ensure they work well on various screen sizes and devices. Still, they differ in a few ways.

Mobile First Design vs Responsive Design

Responsive design starts with a standard desktop version of a website or application and then uses CSS media queries to adapt the layout and design based on the screen size and device.

Mobile-first design starts by designing the application for mobile devices first and goes for desktop devices. This approach prioritizes the needs and constraints of mobile users.

Responsive design is quite different. Here, designers and developers start creating websites or applications for desktop devices first and then optimize them for mobile devices.

Development Phases of Mobile First Design

The development phases of mobile-first design include the following,

1. Create a Content Hierarchy

Create a spreadsheet that lists all the elements that you want on the website. This sheet will help you give a clear perspective of the content needed to be added to the site. Having a content list enables you to prioritize and assign resources to the most vital aspects.

2. Start with the tiniest breakpoints and scale

Create wireframes for the smallest breakpoints and then scale it up for high breakpoints. This way, you can make sure that the design works well on small devices first and then adjust it for big screens.

3. Make elements thumb-friendly

The next phase of the mobile-first strategy is thumb-friendliness. That is, clickable UI components like buttons, icons, and hyperlinks have to be big so that users can tap it with a thumb. 

If they are too small, users may mistakenly click on the wrong element. The minimum recommended size of a clickable element has to be at least 44 pixels in height and width.

4. Avoid relying on hover

Avoid using mouseover and CSS hover effects, as they are not supported on mobile devices. Make your website easy to use and user-friendly by creating touch-based actions like swiping, tapping, or pinching.

Design the interface like a mobile application

Design the interface to resemble a mobile app instead of a regular desktop website. Consider making the user interface similar to how mobile apps look. Use features like off-canvas navigation, expandable widgets, AJAX calls, and more. 

5. Avoid bigger visuals

When creating a mobile-first design, it’s important to avoid using large graphics that will look good on small screens, like landscape photos or intricate graphics. Instead, use graphics that are easy to read and portable.

6. Test on a real device before deployment

The most important thing is to test the application on a real device before making it available to the public. It helps ensure that it works well on all devices. When you test your design on a real device, you can see how fast websites load, how simple it is to navigate, and if text and pictures are readable on a small screen. You can also check if the touch interaction works well.

Also, testing on a real device could help you find issues that might be hidden on a desktop or laptop. For example, you might realize that the text is too small on a mobile device or that the buttons are too close together and hard to tap.

Testsigma supports over 3000+ smartphones/tablets and 1000+ browser/OS combos. Try out Testsigma Cloud for free using the 21-day free trial.

How to Perform Mobile First Design?

Creating a mobile first design requires a well-defined process that prioritizes the user’s needs and goals. A structured approach also helps to keep the design focused and avoid feature creep. Additionally, following a process enables designers to iterate and refine the design based on user feedback and data. In this way, a process-driven approach to mobile-first design can lead to a more effective and engaging product that meets the user’s needs and goals.

Steps to Create a Mobile First Design for Your Application

  1. Define the user and their goals: Understand the user persona and their goals. This will help to create a user-centered design that meets the user’s needs.
  2. Identify the key features: Prioritize the key features based on the user’s needs and goals. This will help to keep the design focused and avoid feature creep.
  3. Create a mobile wireframe: Develop a mobile wireframe that outlines the basic layout and functionality of the product. Place the most important elements in the center of the screen, where they are easily visible and accessible. Keep the design simple and use only the necessary elements.
  4. Design the visual interface: Design the visual interface of the product using a mobile-first approach. Prioritize the visual hierarchy of content by placing the most important information at the top of the screen. Use legible font sizes, clear buttons, and simple icons. Ensure that the product looks great on different screen sizes.
  5. Use responsive design techniques: Ensure that the product looks and functions well on different screen sizes using responsive design techniques. Use fluid grids, flexible images, and media queries.
  6. Content hierarchy: Define the content hierarchy based on the user’s goals and needs. Prioritize the most important information at the top of the screen and keep the design simple and focused.
  7. Test and iterate: Test the product with real users and iterate based on their feedback. Continuously refine the design based on user feedback and data.
  8. Launch and monitor: Launch the product and monitor its performance. Use analytics tools to track user behavior, engagement, and retention. Continuously refine the product based on data, ensuring it meets the user’s needs and goals.

By following these steps, designers can create engaging and intuitive mobile products.

Best Practices for Good Mobile First Design

  1. Keep the design simple: A simple design makes it easier for users to navigate and use the product. It also reduces cognitive load and helps users focus on the most important tasks.
  2. Prioritize content hierarchy: We should design the content hierarchy to prioritize the most important information and actions. This makes it easier for users to find what they need and take the desired action.
  3. Use clear and concise language: Use language that is easy to understand and avoid complex jargon. This makes the product more accessible to a wider audience and reduces confusion.
  4. Design for touchscreens: We often use mobile devices with touchscreens, so you should optimize the design for touch interactions. Use large, easy-to-tap buttons and avoid small or closely spaced elements.
  5. Optimize for speed: Mobile users expect fast loading times, so it’s important to optimize the product for speed. Use compressed images and minimize the number of HTTP requests to reduce load times.
  6. Test on real devices: Testing on real devices is essential to ensure that the product works well on different screen sizes and device types. It also helps to identify any performance issues and improve the user experience.
  7. Use visual cues and feedback: Visual cues and feedback can help users understand how to use the product and what actions are available. Use animation, color, and other visual elements to provide feedback and guide the user.
  8. Design for offline use: We often use mobile devices in areas with poor connectivity, so it’s important to design for offline use. This can include caching content and allowing users to complete tasks offline, with changes syncing when a connection is available.
  9. Use data to inform design decisions: Data can provide valuable insights into how users are using the product and where improvements can be made. Use analytics tools and user feedback to guide design decisions and prioritize improvements.

By following these best practices, designers can create mobile-first designs that are optimized for a wide range of devices and user needs. These practices help to create a seamless and enjoyable user experience, ultimately leading to a more successful product.

Testing a Mobile First Design

Testing a mobile-first design is a crucial step in the product design process as it ensures the product’s quality and user satisfaction. A thorough testing process can help identify issues and bugs that could potentially affect the product’s functionality and user experience.

Steps to Test a Mobile-First Design:

  1. Plan the Testing: Before starting the testing process, it is essential to plan what you want to test and how you want to test it. Determine the scope of testing, the testing objectives, and the resources needed for the testing process.
  2. Identify Test Scenarios: Identify test scenarios based on user behavior and business requirements. It is essential to cover all possible user interactions to ensure the product is functioning as intended.
  3. Choose Testing Types: There are various types of testing such as functional testing, usability testing, performance testing, security testing, etc. Choose the testing types based on the project requirements and objectives.
  4. Test on Real Devices: It’s important to test mobile-first designs on real devices to ensure the user experience is optimized across different screen sizes, resolutions, and operating systems.
  5. Optimize for Speed: Speed is crucial for mobile-first designs. We should optimize the product’s loading speed and ensure it does not affect the user experience.
  6. Focus on User Experience: A mobile-first design should provide an excellent user experience across different devices. You can test the product’s interface, ease of use, and navigation.
  7. Test for Accessibility: Mobile-first designs should be accessible to all users, including those with disabilities. Test the product’s compatibility with assistive technologies, and ensure that all users can access and use the product.
  8. Perform Regression Testing: Regression testing ensures that changes or updates to the product have not introduced new issues or bugs. Perform regression testing after each iteration of development.
  9. Test on Different Networks: Mobile-first designs should work well across different networks, including 3G, 4G, 5G, and Wi-Fi. Test the product’s performance and functionality on different networks.
  10. Analyze Results: Analyze the test results and identify any issues or bugs. Prioritize and fix the issues based on their severity.

By following these steps, product designers can ensure that their mobile-first designs are thoroughly tested and optimized for user satisfaction.

Test Mobile-First Design With Testsigma’s Best-In-Class Features

Testsigma is one of the best tools available in the market for automating mobile-first design testing. It is a cloud-based test automation tool that provides both open-source and premium versions. Here are some of the features of Testsigma that make it an excellent tool for mobile-first design testing:

  • Automate easily in simple English: Testsigma enables you to write test cases in plain English, making it easy to automate your mobile-first design testing without any coding knowledge.
  • Start test automation in minutes: With the intuitive UI of Testsigma, you can get started with test automation for your mobile application in just a few minutes.
  • Automate for web, mobile, desktop & APIs from the same place: Testsigma supports automation testing for web, mobile, and APIs, allowing you to perform all types of testing from a single platform.
  • Save time on your test maintenance with AI-supported built-in features: Testsigma’s AI-powered features help you reduce the time spent on test maintenance, allowing you to focus on testing your mobile-first design.
  • Easy and efficient test execution on the cloud: Its cloud-based platform allows for quick and efficient test execution, ensuring that your mobile application is thoroughly tested.
  • Test your mobile-first design parallely on multiple devices: It offers parallel testing for mobile-first design, which allows you to run multiple tests simultaneously on multiple devices. This can help you save a significant amount of time in your testing process and allows for efficient and faster testing.
  • Avoid issues by testing in local devices: Testsigma also offers local device testing capabilities, which allow you to test your mobile-first designs on real devices that are connected to your local machine. This ensures that your application is tested in a real-world environment, which helps to identify any potential issues that may not be visible in an emulator or simulator.
  • Debug with the help of screenshots, videos, and logs easily: It provides detailed logs, screenshots, and videos to help you identify and fix issues in your mobile-first design.
  • Get reports that you can customize according to your needs: With Testsigma, you can generate customizable reports that provide you with a comprehensive overview of your testing results.
  • Setup all your review and collaboration processes on the cloud: Its cloud-based platform allows for easy collaboration and review of your mobile-first design testing process.
  • Easily integrate with CI/CD tools: It integrates seamlessly with popular CI/CD tools, making it easy to incorporate automated testing into your development process.
  • Access your tests from anywhere, anytime: Its cloud-based platform allows you to access your test cases from anywhere at any time.
  • Helpful support that is there for you 24×7: It provides round-the-clock support to help you with any queries or issues you may face during your mobile-first design testing.

Whether you choose the open-source or premium cloud-based version, Testsigma offers a comprehensive solution for testing web, mobile, and API applications in a single platform. So why wait? Try out Testsigma today and experience the benefits of automated mobile-first design testing for yourself.

Read More: Mobile Automation Testing – Why And When You Should Invest? 

Best Tools to Use for Mobile First Design

To make the process easier and more efficient, it is recommended to use various tools specifically designed for mobile-first design. These tools can help you create responsive designs, test your website’s compatibility with mobile devices, and much more. Here are some of the best tools to use for mobile-first design.

Google’s Mobile-First Friendly Test

Mobile-First Design Testing Tool by Google
Mobile-First Friendly Testing Tool by Google

Google’s Mobile-First Friendly Test is a tool that allows you to check whether your website is optimized for mobile devices. This tool analyzes your website’s mobile-friendliness by checking its loading speed, responsive design, and mobile usability. It provides you with detailed reports and recommendations on how to improve your website’s mobile-friendliness.

Some of its features include:

  • User-friendly interface for easy use.
  • Fast and accurate analysis of your website’s mobile-friendliness.
  • Suggestions for improvement based on Google’s mobile-first guidelines.
  • Tips for optimizing your website’s performance on mobile devices.
  • Compatibility with both desktop and mobile devices.

Pricing Model:

Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test is a free tool and does not require any payment or subscription to use. Users can access the tool by visiting the web page and entering the URL of the website they want to test. There are no hidden costs or charges for using the tool, and it is completely free for anyone to use.


BootStrap for Mobile-First Design
Responsive Snippets by BootStrap

Bootstrap is a popular open-source front-end framework used for creating responsive and mobile-first websites. It was developed by Twitter and is now maintained by a group of developers. Bootstrap provides a set of pre-built design templates, components, and JavaScript plugins that help create consistent and visually appealing web pages.

Some of the key features of Bootstrap are:

  • Responsive Design: Bootstrap provides a responsive grid system that makes it easier to create websites that look great on any device.
  • Customizable: It can be customized using CSS preprocessors like Sass and Less, which allow you to customize the look and feel of your website.
  • Easy to Use: Bootstrap provides a simple and easy-to-use interface that makes it easy for developers to create responsive and mobile-first websites.
  • Large Community: It has a large community of developers who contribute to its development and provide support to users.
  • Browser Compatibility: Bootstrap is compatible with all modern browsers, including Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Internet Explorer.

Pricing Model:

Bootstrap is available for free under the MIT License, which means you can use it for personal and commercial projects. Additionally, there are many pre-built Bootstrap templates available online that you can use as a starting point for your project.

Overall, Bootstrap is an excellent tool for creating responsive and mobile-first websites, and its ease of use and large community make it a popular choice among developers.

WordPress Themes

WordPress Themes
Themes by WordPress

WordPress is the most popular web content management system (CMS), powering over 40% of all websites. With a large community of developers, there are numerous WordPress themes available that are mobile-responsive and can be used to create a mobile-first design. These themes are designed to automatically adjust to different screen sizes, making them a great option for mobile-first design.

WordPress Themes Features:

  1. Mobile-Responsive: WordPress themes are mobile-responsive, meaning that they will automatically adjust to different screen sizes.
  2. Customizable: They are highly customizable, allowing you to create a unique design for your website.
  3. SEO Friendly: WordPress themes are SEO friendly, making it easy to optimize your website for search engines.
  4. Cost-Effective: Many WordPress themes are available for free, while premium themes are often available at a low cost.
  5. Community Support: There is a large community of WordPress developers and users, making it easy to find support and resources.

Pricing Model:

WordPress themes are available for free and can be found in the WordPress repository. Premium WordPress themes are also available and typically range from $20 to $100. Additionally, there are many third-party marketplaces where you can purchase WordPress themes at varying prices.

HostGator Website Builder

Mobile-First Design using HostGator Website Builder
Website Builder by HostGator

HostGator website builder is another popular tool for mobile-first design. It is a user-friendly drag-and-drop website builder tool that offers a wide range of templates and designs to choose from.

Here are some of the features of the Gator website builder:

  • Mobile-responsive design templates.
  • Drag-and-drop interface for easy designing.
  • In-built e-commerce functionality.
  • Analytics tools to track site performance.
  • Built-in SEO tools for search engine optimization.

Pricing Model:

Gator website builder offers a 21-day free trial, and after that, users can choose from two pricing plans – the Starter plan and the Premium plan. The Starter plan is priced at $3.84 per month and includes a free domain name, hosting, SSL certificate, and unlimited pages. The Premium plan is priced at $5.99 per month and includes all the features of the Starter plan, along with priority support, e-commerce functionality, and more.

Adaptive Images

Adaptive Images
Image Sizing by Adaptive Images

Adaptive Images is a lightweight solution to serve appropriately sized images for mobile-first design. It works by detecting the screen size of the device used to access a website and then delivering appropriately sized images for the best performance.

Some of the features of Adaptive Images include:

  • Automatically detects the device’s screen size and serves appropriately sized images.
  • Improves page loading time by reducing the size of the images.
  • Allows for customized image sizes and quality levels.
  • Compatible with most content management systems and frameworks.
  • Easy to integrate with existing websites and applications.

Pricing Model:

Adaptive Images is available as an open-source project on GitHub, which means it is free to use and can be modified according to the user’s needs. It can be integrated with most content management systems, making it a versatile tool for mobile-first design.

Overall, Adaptive Images is a powerful tool for ensuring that images are optimized for mobile-first design, which in turn improves page loading times and enhances the user experience.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, mobile-first design has become essential in today’s digital world, where most users access the internet through their mobile devices. By adopting this design approach, you can provide your users with an optimized experience that improves engagement and drives conversions. In this article, we have covered various aspects of mobile-first design, from its definition and benefits to its best practices, testing methods, and recommended tools. By following these guidelines, you can create a mobile-first design that meets your business needs and delights your users. So, start implementing these practices and tools to take your design skills to the next level and stay ahead of the competition.

Ready to take your mobile-first design testing to the next level? Sign up for Testsigma today and see the benefits of automation testing in action.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is mobile-first design better?

Yes, mobile-first design is better because it allows you to create a responsive website that is optimized for mobile devices. As mobile usage continues to increase, it’s important to ensure your website is accessible and user-friendly on all devices.

Why is mobile-first design so important?

The mobile-first design offers several benefits, such as improved user experience, faster load times, better search engine optimization, and the ability to reach a wider audience. Additionally, with more and more people accessing the internet through mobile devices, a mobile-first design strategy can help businesses reach a larger audience and improve their overall digital presence.

What are the challenges of mobile-first design?

Some of the challenges of mobile-first design include:

  1. Limited screen space: Mobile devices have smaller screens, which can make it difficult to display all the necessary information.
  2. Performance: They may have slower processors and limited bandwidth, which can affect website performance.
  3. Navigation: Navigation can be tricky on mobile devices, so it’s important to ensure that your website is easy to navigate and use on a small screen.

By keeping these challenges in mind, you can create a mobile-first design that is optimized for the user experience on all devices.

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