Web design has never really been cut and dry. It changes with technology, which in other words means that it changes constantly. In the past year or so, one of the big changes and hot topics of discussion has been Mobile Friendly Design.
Thanks to smartphones and tablets, people are now taking the Internet with them wherever they go. If you’ve got a website, this means that you’re along for the ride – whether you’ve prepared for it or not.
In reality, there are about a million different things you can do to make your website more mobile friendly and accessible. Mobile methods lie along a spectrum. Some are quick and easy, and some require planning and investment.
Wherever you chose to operate upon this spectrum depends upon your budget, your audience, and your goals.
1. Do nothing
Sounds proactive, right? While it’s not exactly the most innovative way to prepare for the mobile wave, it is in some cases a reasonable reaction. For one thing, doing nothing is cheaper than cheap – it’s free. Beyond this obvious consideration, however, doing nothing might actually align with the usage patterns of your audience. Many users still prefer to use a home computer for certain sites. Sites that are heavily visual – like digital art galleries, for example – simply look better on a large-screen monitor, and users know this. Sites engaged in eCommerce are also prone to more home-based computer traffic, simply because users intrinsically feel more secure.
On the downside, doing nothing means that your website will be for all intents and purposes useless to anyone who visits it with a mobile device.
2. Create an "Adaptive" or "Responsive" Website
Adaptive websites are a great middle of the road option, especially for people who already have home computer friendly websites set in place, and who don’t need to cater exclusively to the mobile market. This is because adaptive designs are simply modeled off of the pre-existing website. In short, this means your site does not require a complete overhaul, and that it is reasonably affordable. Your website’s appearance will literally adapt and reformat itself to the size of your visitors' screens.
An adaptive website looks good on any size screen because it implements flexible imagery and fluid design grids, rather than predetermined templates. The conceptual design process behind an adaptive website is also fundamentally different than that of your standard website. An adaptive website has to be able to look good at 15 inches and at 5 or any of the other hundreds of different sized devices.
One great example is Disney.com.
To view an adaptive website in action, simply visit Disney’s site from your computer and your phone or tablet. You’ll notice that the website re-adjusts its appearance as you resize.
3. Create a true Mobile App
For the absolute best user experience, create a dedicated mobile app. Mobile apps aren't really websites at all. They are programs which run only on the intended device; that is, a mobile app for iOS works only on iPhones, iPods and iPads, and a mobile app for Android works only on those devices.
The benefit of a mobile app is it gives the user the truest experience possible. They can find the app in the iTunes store or Google Play. Each element of the user interface, the "look and feel" of the buttons and menus are the same as every other app.
There are some downsides to a true mobile app.
One is that true mobile apps are, relatively speaking, very expensive. Mobile app development is the hottest area of work in the industry right now and there are limited number of companies who can do it well. Good ol' supply and demand means you're going to pay more.
A second issue is you have to do separate work for each type of device you want to support. You're already building and supporting a website; now you'll have to spend the same amount of time or more for your iPhone app and again for your Android version.
Our recommendation to most clients is to start with an Adaptive Web Design. Unless you are absolutely sure of the features and functionality of a mobile app, the cost is too high. It's better to experiment with an Adaptive Web Design and learn what your users really want from you while they are on the mobile devices.