Any web designers would agree that it is easier to design a mobile website from scratch than retrofitting existing ones. Problems with updating old websites with responsive designs do not always relate to small displays of mobile devices. Granted, developers wrote HTML documents many years ago with an assumption that users would use only larger displays with laptops and desktops. Prior to the popularity of smartphones in 2007, web designers could safely rely on to the fact that users will use at least 800 x 600 screen resolution. The arrival of smart mobile devices throws this outdated concept out of the window. Now, most of the incoming web traffics come from Android, iOS, Windows Phone and other mobile platforms. Things are becoming more difficult for web designers, since stakeholder often ask them to adapt the website to whichever mobile platform that come knocking.
Designing for future mobile devices can significantly affect the page layouts and even the website structure. Web designers can control on which platform users should view their websites. It is no longer considered a solution to simply add the “best viewed with…..” messages on the main pages. People will keep on coming regardless of what device and software platform they use.
Defining Essential Content for Mobile Websites
This is a very common scenario; a web design firm is hired by a company to set up mobile online presence. The decision to make a mobile website is based on surveys that consumers in the industry are now more likely to purchase products with mobile devices. The company responds to this development by planning to redesign their website for mobile users. They also progressively turn their organization towards the mobile-first strategy. Yet before perusing responsive grids, sketching icons and cramming codes, web designers find one thing that may derail the whole project before it starts. The web content provided by the company is unsuitable and ill-formatted for devices with smaller displays. It simply won’t work for anything smaller than 800 x 600 screen resolution.
Improper content may cause problems to mobile-optimized websites, including:
• Common text sizes and fonts don’t fit well
• Multiple column layout compress poorly
• Details in high resolution images disappear
There are also cases when WYSIWYG editors add their own unique formatting, causing incompatibilities with mobile web browsers. Websites with more pages are also likely to have more variations. Since no single solution can fit all variations, it is unlikely that web designers can continue working without facing some consequences.
While responsive designs may bridge existing gaps, designers should be more responsive to current issues, so they can anticipate tomorrow’s problems. Web designers should do these steps to address problems related to unsuitable mobile content:
• Don’t sacrifice content. Web designers shouldn’t offer users a watered-down information from the original website.
• Make the content usable. Web designers shouldn’t just shrink layouts. They need to make sure that everything from the navigation structure to text layout is easy to use.
But there’s an important question that needs an immediate answer, what kind of content is worth keeping for mobile devices? In general, we can consider content as any information that websites try to deliver to users. Web designers should make digital content sufficiently supple for mobile platform and web designers should determine whether the content is appropriate for inclusion. In many cases, we apply subjective indicators to determine the usefulness of content to all related parties. Content usually take the form of texts, images and videos. A unit of content may contain just a few short sentences or it may cover multiple pages. Web designers should understand that “essential” content is the reason why many websites exists. Content does fill a website, which acts as a platform on which web designers deliver their content. It’s worth noting that “essential” is not always synonymous with being popular, although both factors are related. Popularity is simply how users rank available “essential” content against specific criteria. What website owners consider as priority information may actually rank lower in users’ minds.
These are factors web designers should consider when classifying “essential” contents:
• Proximity: The content should be relevant geographically to the main topic, such as businesses, cities and events
• Timeliness: The content shouldn’t wax or wane in importance over time.
• Scale: The content should be sufficiently significant in quantity
• Scope: The content should cover the largest group of audience.
These rules are not applicable to all kinds of websites. Blogs and news publications sites provide essential content on their home pages, which often have poor timeliness value. Blogposts and news articles can become obsolete in matter of days, in some cases, hours. Consequently, the degree of importance can be a subjective matter, which also affects prioritizations. The bottom line is, web designers should retain essential content on mobile websites and leaves the popularity factors to users.
Handling Pages on Mobile Websites
Streamlining content for mobile websites doesn’t always mean removing webpages. Webpages are comparable to pages in magazines or books. However, pages shouldn’t be considered as the smallest block of information in websites. Instead, designers should consider websites as a group of informative and useful content, which they can sort and categorize.
Web designers should arrange information into blocks of content and designers can allocate them into pages whenever appropriate. Some information may appear on multiple pages and the “blocks of content” concept can extend with multiple implementations. Because designers can group HTML documents into different blocks, they can actually use smaller displays of mobile devices to their advantage. Regardless of the platform used, we can organize websites into different hierarchies and by organizing contents into blocks, instead of pages; designers can define a structure between webpages. Small displays on mobile devices can only show so much and designers can organize the layout to reduce clutter. They can implement “visual pauses”, which help users to scroll through pages effectively. While wide screen displays help designers to organize content with space, the limited viewing areas of mobile devices can help designers to make a more focused user experience.
With mobile-optimized structure, web designers need much less screens to display their content. On desktop screen, traditional content hierarchies branch from general overview (home page) to more specific information (sub-pages), designers also often make each page stands alone. On sites with mobile-optimized structure, the architecture has taller arrangement, while applying the same hierarchy. It’s difficult for web designers to predict what kind of upcoming technology will make current mobile design outdated, but they can take steps to make future transitions easier. The goal isn’t just to reinvent what we already have, but also to see everything with new set of eyes. Web designers should do these things to make future transitions easier:
• Perform Repurposing:
As web designers rework individual webpages, they can try them in different platforms, not just mobile web browsers. As an example, webpages should maintain its structure after a function converts them for email messages and it should import flawlessly to other CMSs. There’s nothing laughable about testing webpages on different scenarios, after all, designing webpages for minuscule 320px displays would be considered as ridiculous a few years ago.
• Rebuild the Home Page Regularly:
Save a copy of the home page and rebuild it from scratch. Web designers can reuse some of the elements when needed. With this method, it is easier to respond to latest trends in mobile design.
• Find Proper Pitches:
Review each webpage and look for a sentence that can sum up the rest of the webpage. If there’s none, it could be necessary to rework these pages, combine them with other pages or eliminate them altogether.
• Work with the Metadata:
Some changes to metadata can help users gain more information about the page. It could be necessary to make the sentence slightly longer and more descriptive.