Written by Daniel Burrus
We are currently in the midst of one the biggest software and hardware revolutions we’ve ever witnessed. With processing power, storage, and bandwidth increasing exponentially, smart phones and smart tablets are quickly becoming our main personal and business computer. Customers, employees, and other stakeholders are bringing and using their smart phones and tablets everywhere, and that definitely impacts how they see and interact with your company online.
For organizations of all sizes, this means it’s time to take a good look at your website. Sure, your site might look great on a desktop or laptop computer screen. But how does it look on all of the different sizes of screens found on today’s wide variety of tablets and smart phones? Chances are the answer is “not good.” That’s why at this point in time all companies need to make their site adaptive and design their websites for mobile first.
Today’s Mobile Web Sites
To address the mobile revolution, many companies have created a second mobile version of their website so their content can be viewed on smart phones without a problem. But there are big problems! First, you have to design, maintain, and pay for two separate websites. When you update one, the other is in most cases not automatically updated. Additionally, the mobile site is designed for a specific mobile screen size. If your user does not have that phone model, they will still have to scroll around to see your mobile site version.
The New Adaptive Website Imperative
To get a better idea of why a traditionally designed website doesn’t work for mobile devices, try this little experiment. Using a laptop or desktop, go to your company’s website. Depending on the size of your screen, the website will either fill the entire screen or there will be a border on the right and left side.
Using your mouse arrow, grab the bottom right corner of the browser window for your website. Drag it from the right to the left diagonally up and start making the window smaller. If your website is not adaptive, you’ll see that all you’re really doing is covering things up. And as soon as the window gets smaller than the pre-defined width of the site, you’ll see scrollbars appear on the right and bottom. Now the only way to move around on the page is to scroll.
Keep making the window smaller until it’s about the size of a smart phone screen. How does it look? You’ll see that it doesn’t look good at all. As a matter of fact, it’s probably not useful either.
If your website was adaptive, as you move that window and make it smaller, the text would automatically reformat and the pictures would move accordingly to fit the smaller screen size. The menu would also adapt and change so your website and content would work on any device.
That last point is important, because, as I mentioned earlier, not all smart phones have the same size screen. An Android screen is different from an iPhone screen, which is different from a Blackberry screen. Even tablets have different size screens. So if you don’t have an adaptive site, the person viewing your site on their tablet or smart phone will end up having to scroll somehow, somewhere, because of the wide variety of screen sizes.
To see a real example of how an adaptive site would look, go to my website at www.burrus.com. Other site examples include http://calebogden.com/, http://owltastic.com/ and http://thinkvitamin.com. Visit any of those sites and give them a try. View them on your laptop first and shrink the browser window as described earlier and notice how the site changes to fit any size screen. Now try them on your tablet or smart phone. Regardless of screen size, they will all look great. The good news is that any website developer can do this once they understand the concept!
So the message is clear: The time to create an adaptive site is now! That means you have two choices. You can go back to whoever designed your current site and have them take your current look and make it adaptive, or you can start over and design a new website.
Design for Mobile First
If you decide it’s time to design a new website, an important key to success is to design it for mobile first.
When you design for mobile first, you have to re-evaluate all your content. Business owners as well as website designers are still in laptop and desktop design mode. And because they’re thinking in terms of large screens that need to be filled, they put a lot of content online—often way too much. As a result, the vast majority of websites are bloated with way too much information.
It’s time to throw all that non-essential stuff out. The best way to help you make those tough decisions of which content to cut is to think in terms of mobile first. After all, if your main design is optimized for a small screen that adapts by getting bigger when viewed on a laptop screen (as opposed to shrinking when it gets viewed on a smaller screen), it will be easier to take out all the content and graphics that are not really necessary.
If you think that all the content on your current site is necessary, you’re only fooling yourself. Most companies have websites that are way too busy. And while the website may look nice and be “cool” or “trendy,” it’s not getting to the essence of what people need to make decisions or to buy your products. This gives you a strategic reason to get rid of the clutter.
Designing for mobile first forces you to make the hard decisions of what should stay and what should go. It’s similar to when someone moves from a large house to a small condo. When you have the big house, you fill it with a lot of furniture you don’t use, a lot of artwork you don’t look at, and a lot of “must have” gadgets you don’t need. Once you downsize your space, you realize you really don’t need all that stuff. Even though letting go is painful at first, it gradually gets easier once you realize how free and uncluttered you feel.
The same concept applies for your website. You have a big screen to fill, so you fill it. Now put your website on a small screen and decide what your prospects and customers really need to make a buying decision.
The Future of Website Design
Make no mistake: It’s a hard trend (a certainty) that tablets and smart phones are rapidly becoming people’s main computer. Therefore, you want your website to be seen well on these devices and to be useful. If you don’t want the added expense and hassle of two websites, then step one is to make your current site adaptive. When it’s time to redo the site entirely, design it for mobile first. These two steps will put you light years ahead of your competition and boost your online presence and sales immensely.
About the Author: Daniel Burrus is considered one of the world’s leading technology forecasters and business strategists, and is the founder and CEO of Burrus Research, a research and consulting firm that monitors global advancements in technology driven trends to help clients better understand how technological, social and business forces are converging to create enormous, untapped opportunities. He is the author of six books, including the national bestseller Flash Foresight: How To See the Invisible and Do the Impossible as well as the highly acclaimed Technotrends (Sydney, Australia’s most overdue library book).