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Web design. It’s a complex subject. It needn’t be a confusing one.

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I think…

Mobile-friendly matters.

But maybe not in the ways you might expect.

Mobile-friendly is better for users.

Most people are probably now accustomed to ‘mobile-friendly’ websites (referred to as ‘responsive’ by web designers) which adjust themselves to a user’s device.

Younger web users will increasingly view ‘non-responsive’ sites which aren’t easily usable on an iPhone or similar as being either crap or ‘broken.’ Neither is an ideal reaction if these are your potential customers.

As users of all ages grow accustomed to responsive sites, the less likely they are to put any extra effort into viewing those which aren’t.

Mobile-friendly is better for SEO.

Search Engine Optimisation. A big subject in itself, surrounded by a lot of myths and misinformation, and something I’ll probably get back to later.

What probably isn’t widely known is that the parameters Google and all the other search engines use to ‘rank’ sites are constantly changing and evolving. Since the search engines generally keep these parameters a closely guarded secret, they are, quite literally a moving target.

Every now and again though, Google officially announces a major change to its search algorithms. Beginning in mid-2015, mobile-friendly sites will be ranked higher in search engine results on mobile devices.

While this gave the more sensationalist elements of the technical press an opportunity for lurid headlines about 'mobilegeddon,' it’s genuinely a compelling reason to ensure the next version of your site is responsive.

Mobile-friendly is faster.

Or at least, it should be if done properly. Smarter responsive sites will not only adjust layout and text size, they should also download the optimum size image for any device. In simple terms, it’s pointless to send images or video sized for a large widescreen monitor to a phone when a smaller version will load faster and look identical. Bigger images have larger file sizes, so they take longer to download and eat into your mobile data allowance.

And since Google factors download speed into search results, it makes sense for a website to deliver everything just big enough and no more.

But here’s the thing.

In my opinion, these factors are undoubtedly important. But they’re primarily concerned with the ‘mechanics’ of a website.

Responsive site design has triggered big changes in the way modern websites should be built, but there have been quite a few of these ‘game changers’ in the last 20 years. Browsers from the mid ’90s would fail hopelessly with any site I’ve built in the last decade.

The real change?

I’d contend the most important change is a move toward greater simplicity. In many cases, this is influencing how sites are structured for all users, with many having fewer pages, less content and probably most importantly, simpler navigation.

The result, if well implemented, can be a site which is faster, easier to use and more effective in terms of customer response.

Of course there will always be sites which do a require a more elaborate structure and extensive content (you’re never going to reduce the BBC to a scrolling single page), but even there the influence of a mobile-led simpler approach is very evident. (Ironically there’s more going on under the surface than ever before, but then a duck always makes paddling appear pretty effortless).

Less might just be more.

I’ve designed a dozen or so sites in the last 18 months where ‘make it simpler’ was part of the brief.

As ever of course, the structure of the site should be dictated by the content. On an existing site, a copy audit and edit will likely be required as part of the project. A fresh approach will invariably be more successful than trying to shoehorn old content into a new layout. There may be better ways of presenting information, probably some obsolete content, and frequently excessive repetition.

Turns out Albert Einstein could have made a pretty good website designer. He said, in effect, that everything should be as simple as it can be but not simpler.

Sounds like a plan to me.

More soon.

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