Tue, March 16


2 PM - 4 PM

Web Design 101 - Part 2

In the previous lecture we learned what it means to design for the web today and how responsive web design can help us serve the current web context of numerous devices and scenarios. And how by being responsive we can embrace unpredictability.

In this lecture we are going to see other approaches that help up design and develop accessible and future-friendly web experiences.

Mobile first

Graph that shows mobile web vs. desktop internet trends

Already back in 2009 Luke Wroblewski soon realized that designers should have a new focus. He saw a trend of ever-increasing numbers for mobile web usage. He saw that the omnipresent web was being utilized on much more than just desktops and those larger displays. The numbers for mobile Web usage were growing by leaps and bounds. This was what gave way to the fundamental focus of Mobile First.1

Luke’s definition of mobile first consists of three core components:

  • The growth of mobile is a huge opportunity to reach more people than ever
  • The constraints of the mobile medium force us to focus on what really matters
  • The capabilities of mobile create opportunities to innovate

In the last years there has been a lot of discussion about the different approaches to deliver mobile web experiences. Responsive web design vs. adaptive design vs. device agnostic design (which is the one you notice when in front of the URL you see and m. like m.url.com). But at the end the user doesn’t really care about the design approach you use.

End-users don’t care about your responsive web or your separate sites, they just want to be able to get stuff done.2

The mobile first design allows us designers to do just that, it allows the end-users to get stuff done, regardless of the generation of their device.

Graceful degradation (old top-down approach)

Image that shows practically how graceful degradation works

In the mix of this de-evolving process, most of the time, you are overloading the smaller devices with far too information causing the smaller devices to lag at excruciatingly low speeds.

A recent survey of 2300 CIOs in the States showed some dramatics and some valuable statistics3:

  • more than 1.2 billion people worldwide use the web via mobile devices
  • mobile sales are growing three times faster than overall e-commerce
  • mobile users expect pages to load as fast as, if not faster than, pages on desktop computers (40% will abandon a page that takes longer than 3 seconds to load)
  • up to 97% of mobile shopping carts are abandoned
  • when pages are slow, user frustration increases and engagement decreases

One of the most embraced method in order to address these problems is progressive enhancement.

Progressive enhancement (new bottom-up approach)

Image that shows the benefits of progressive enhancement

This progressive enhancement helps in keeping the content and media featured on a site from being far too heavy for the lowest-tech phones to handle.

Progressive enhancement uses web technologies in a layered fashion that allows everyone to access the basic content and functionality of a web page, using any browser or Internet connection, while also providing an enhanced version of the page to those with more advanced browser software or greater bandwidth.4

Progressive enhancement metaphor

By first creating an experience that prioritizes a worst-case mobile scenario, you ensure that your users will be able to accomplish their goals despite a lot of factors working against them.

Force designers to focus on core content and functionality

With, roughly, 80% of the screen size taken away when you start with mobile first design, you have to think about how to utilize your space in a much more conservative manner.

Prioritize meme

Mobile forces you to focus on only the most important data and actions in an application or website. You have to prioritize.5

Mobile users will do anything and everything desktop users will do, provided it’s presented in a usable way.

All this approaches lead to just one conclusion: devices will come and go and technological trends will wax and wane, but content, business goals and user goals remain. 6

If you take the time to figure out the right way to get your content out there, you’ll have the freedom (and the flexibility) to get it everywhere. You can go back to thinking about the right design and development approaches for each platform, because you’ll already have a reusable base of content to work from.7

Content first

The device landscape is constantly changing. Capabilities are constantly changing. Properly structured content is portable to future platforms.8

Content first illustration

As it happens with the mobile first methodology structuring content first creates content focus and hierarchy. We should not assume that users want different content simply because of the platform they’re using. And this approach helps us do just that: same content is delivered to all users no matter the device they are using to access it.

Knowing the type of device the user is holding doesn’t tell you anything about the user’s intent.

Linear content

The great thing about this approach is it forces you into a content hierarchy. The most important piece of content is on top, followed by the next, followed by the next. Unlike a desktop approach where you can put two pieces of content side by side for equal footing, a mobile approach means one is above the other.9


We have gone through many different useful practices that help use craft a flexible and accessible web. And as we saw previously by being able to design fluid products we embrace and acknowledge the unpredictability of the web. All these approaches can summarized with the future-friendly web manifesto signed by many important web figures such as Brad Frost, Luke Wroblewski, and many more

  • The web is not one-dimensional
  • The power of the web is its ubiquitousness
  • We need to reconsider the content we create and the context in which people interact with our content
  • We need to respect people’s time and give them relevant, purposeful content without the extra cruft
  • Content like water. Think of your core content as a fluid thing that gets poured into a huge number of containers
  • Mobile is more than just a smaller screen
  • The combination of mobile-first and responsive web design is a good idea
  • Progressive enhancement plays an essential role in future-friendly design
  • Design for touch (ergo finger-friendly)

Workshop #2

Establishing Design Direction

This workshop is heavily inspired by a previous workshop from Brad Frost and a couple of exercises from Good Kickoff Meetings by Kevin Hoffman.

This exercise can help us establish a design direction with our clients and get everyone on the same page. In our case we use this approach to establish the design direction for our portfolio website.

The first exercises is called 20 seconds gut test.

  1. Gather together 20 inspirational websites for our portfolio – You can view the selected websites here or download a keynote template for your own use.
  2. You have 20 seconds to rank each website with a scale form 1 to 5 – You can use this template.
  3. Collect all scores in a spreadsheet – You can view the results here. Or download a template for your own use.
  4. Discuss the top and bottom 5 and take notes focusing especially on adjectives – You can read the comments here.

Part two

In the next lecture we are going to brainstorm the homepage content and the homepage user feelings followed by two sessions of group sketching.