Not very long ago, websites were a strictly desktop experience and built with that in mind (e.g., full keyboard, pointing device, nearby access to printer, etc.). Then came mobile with its limited screen real estate, sub-optimal input interface and processing power limitations. What happened then? Many companies created two distinct sites: a desktop superset of functionality site, and a mobile-based subset experience.
The desktop was the design flagship for both sites
(“Desktop First” design).
And that worked—to a certain extent.
But then came the iPad, an innovation that required
a re-think of the whole dang deal.
The iPad (and the tablet category it created) allows for an entirely different user use case: the much discussed “lean back” experience (this article re: The Economist is especially instructive.) That’s lead to an explosion of creativity (most recent example: the ascension of the word “parallax” from interesting movie/book title to everyday geek speak and a user-interface shiny object.)
When it comes to designing websites, the way I see it, it’s not about the device anymore. It’s about the way your intended audience is going to use it.
So what is your audience going to do with your website?
Casual browsing or deep-dive research?
Leaning back or digging in?
This is a critical question to answer before designing any website.
For many of the companies I’ve worked with, the answer is skewing more toward a casual browsing experience. As anyone who’s ever spent significant time with an iPad can attest, it’s just a lot more fun/relaxing/likely to happen with a tablet. We have to spend our days at desks typing into/mousing around desktops (or laptops). But when many of us want to really engage with sites, we grab our mobile devices.
“Desktop First” is now being replaced by “Tablet First” design for many (even the majority) of websites. It’s certainly where the design heat is at the time of this writing. DF design not dead by a long chalk, but it’s no longer the default design strategy for more and more marketers. And I, for one, am very glad for that.
Wired ups the ante with “Mobile First.” Not there yet myself, but certainly worth thinking about depending on the necessities of your business, product or service.