Why mobile-first product design saves founders time and money

Minimizing the cost of your product launch or new feature release is tempting. Especially if you don’t know if the feature will be loved by your target audience or if you’ll need to change the focus of your product quickly.

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If your product must implement new features or launch quickly without spending too much money on development, mobile-first design is the answer. Let’s see how and when to use this approach based on the experience of our UX/UI designer, Anna Kravchenya, on real products.

She describes:

Quick Mobile-First FAQ

Mobile-first design is widely and commonly used all over the world since smartphones became ubiquitous. It’s wise to develop products for mobile resolutions first instead of desktop ones when the general public is glued to their mobile phones from early childhood. As per Statcounter GlobalStats, overall mobile users continue to grow with a leading market share of 60.43% over desktop.

Mobile-first design can simply bring your product more audience in most сases.

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Still, each day we stumble upon websites and platforms that have issues and non-working tabs or buttons on mobile. Sometimes it can be all due to laziness, but it also depends on the product audience — if your users don’t use your service or product on mobile, why bother redesigning it?

When to use the Mobile-First approach

If your product is being used mostly on mobile devices, then you need to focus on the mobile-first approach, it’s common knowledge. Still, there are times when you want to cut spending or minimize the time your product goes to market — in this case, such an approach will also be a possible solution.

I was working on a product that provides users with quick and easy renters insurance for the people in the USA. The product itself was made for both desktop and mobile, but our partner wanted to create one specific user flow with a mobile-first approach to launch it faster and save money.

It was a reasonable choice because most of the audience used the product on iOS devices.

What is the advantage of Mobile-First design?

Limitations make it easier

While working with mobile devices designers have more restrictions in terms of spaces, visuals, and block placements. Even the fonts and texts are restricted to fit the mobile screens.

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So keeping in mind the mobile first approach and these limits, you can create a comfortable interface that is easy to navigate quickly for the small resolutions of the screen. It will also be pretty easy to scale it for the bigger resolutions because all the patterns and practices are known and limited.

Easier to adapt for desktop later

On the other hand, if you are trying to adapt the desktop design to mobile, you’ll stumble upon too many elements that you won’t know how to fit into your screen. It may lead to difficulties interacting with the product when your audience uses both mobile and desktop devices to achieve their goals.

You won’t have such difficulties if you’re starting designing for mobile first, because you won’t have so many elements to scale. And the fewer elements you have — the easier it will be to scale.

Overall, it’s one of the basic design principles to cut unnecessary things if it doesn’t affect the interaction with the product. Mobile-first design shows the most valuable parts of the interface right from the very beginning.

Faster loading

Cutting out the unnecessary design assets leaves us with less content on each screen. Less content means faster loading of each page because you don’t have heavy images or animation. Your audience will be able to get the service or content they need faster, sometimes 2x or even 4x faster.

Clear navigation and prioritizing content

Because you are limited in terms of content, the navigation of your product also becomes simpler and easier. While on the desktop it may be hard to find the right link in a crowded menu or long piece of content, the mobile-first approach makes navigation more transparent.

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Clear navigation also prioritizes the most important content which helps the user to navigate the product with the most efficiency.

Minimizing design and development expenses

One of the main advantages to mobile-first design for startup founders is that you won’t need to design several layouts for various resolutions. You can simply scale the smallest one to the bigger ones which greatly saves time and budget.

Being confident in your product design

When you begin designing your product for the desktop version you’ll have more content than you can fit on mobile screens. Without a mobile-first approach, some information may go missing on the smaller screens and some functionality may not work properly. Starting development for mobile instantly crosses this pain point out.

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Challenges of Mobile-First design

There are so many benefits to the mobile-first approach that it may seem strange to consider other options. Still, as with any other decisions made while developing your product, this one also carries on some potential challenges.

Design limitations are too strict

Yes, it’s easier to create a design quicker with some limitations, but it can backfire and your product can lack unique visual appeal. If your product needs to stand out among competitors not only for its features, it may be a problem.

In the fashion industry, for example, your product might need a unique vibe and feel, but it’s going to be hard to get.

Not a time-saver for longer flows

It’s rare that designs are approved the first time. Even if you have just several screens in the flow the number may triple due to some changes from the founders or because the initial idea transformed. Still, if you’re designing a simple flow for users consisting of several screens with similar looks like general onboarding, for example, the mobile-first approach will save you time and budget.

If you have a longer flow, you can spend more time on the designs than you expected. This was the case on that renter's insurance product that I talked about earlier. Because the flow had eight various screens, and each screen needed to be designed for 3 different resolutions.

The flow we’re talking about was a form with six steps users needed to take to fill it in. Each step had its meaning with lots of info and some specific language. So we needed to not just split the info by screens, we needed to change the texts to make it more understandable for the wider audience and to support it with various functions like calendars, blocks to enter the information, uploads, buttons, and so on.

Of course, there were some changes to the initial design draft. And when the request for some changes came the number of designs had risen to something like 50.

Not so fab and attractive

The mobile first approach is a savior in terms of functionality, but it may leave you with a flat design, or, at least, a design that is not so visually attractive. It leaves no space for interesting animations and visuals.

Platform limits may become a pain in the neck

If you’re working on the product from the very beginning, you generally don’t stumble upon this issue, but if you’re not making the product from scratch it can give you a lot of headaches implementing the mobile first design.

The platform the product is developed on may have some limitations and you won’t be able to proceed with things necessary simply because the platform has no such functionality. Imagine you’ve designed five different layouts for your onboarding process, but you can’t insert all the images you’ve created in the actual product and need to redo it again. Or the icons must be smaller than you used to create previously, and so on.

So it’s important to do your research and understand the limits of the platform beforehand, or you won’t be able to save time and money as you initially wanted.

Tips to make the most of Mobile-First design

The mobile-first approach can change from product to product depending on the vision of the founder or core functionality, but there are some general tips to use it effectively.

  • Research your target audience to understand if you need this approach at all;
  • If you want to use this approach, start doing it right from the beginning of product development;
  • Start implementing it to the simpler flows consisting of several steps or screens.

The bottom line is, of course, that mobile-first design can save you time and money if you’re doing it right and your target audience uses your product on mobile devices, but don’t use it just for the sake of the trend.

Always think in terms of the functionality needed or startup goals — if mobile is your first choice then use the tips from this article to ease the process of your design.

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