Last month, I was able to attend An Event Apart, a conference for web designers and developers. This year's theme was focused on designing for the mobile web which, really, should just be called "the web." We have to stop thinking in terms of a mobile web and desktop web and start thinking in terms of a unified web for all users.
For the past several years, web designers everywhere have been designing for only for the desktop. And, over time, we've convinced ourselves that all websites should be designed at no more (and in many cases, no less) than 960 pixels wide. But with the introduction of the smart phone, and now tablets, we can no longer design just for the desktop. We have to design for everybody!
Now you might say that doing so would cause our websites to look different on every browser. To which I will point you to this amusing single serving site. And no, your users will not become confused when they go from the desktop version to the tablet or phone version. That is, so long as you've designed things in a way that they can easily get to them.
So why care about mobile users? Because there are a lot of them! While the digital divide has gotten narrower, it has done so because those who can't afford both a phone and a broadband connection at home are opting for a mobile internet connection on their phone. Here's a quick breakdown of users who only or mostly use the internet on mobile devices:
- 43% of low-income Americans
- 42% of Hispanic Americans
- 51% of black Americans
- 39% of Americans with only a high school education
Along with visual design, we (as designers and developers) have to keep in mind that mobile users aren't going to be using a mouse and keyboard. And with touch-based laptops already on the market, it's not just mobile users who are going to want touch-friendly interfaces. That means that hover effects will soon become only an added feature for those who are still using input devices other than the screen, much like CSS3 rounded corners were a nice little touch for those users who had upgraded to the latest browser just a few years ago.
Suffice it to say, I learned a lot about the state of the mobile web. Being surrounded by hundreds of intelligent people was incredibly rewarding, but boy was I glad to be back in Raleigh and give my brain a chance to rest.