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Get mobile this year
2013-01-02: I speak with lots of small businesses about their websites and for at least the last year I've been saying any new website MUST be mobile-friendly and actually all websites need to be updated if they don't display well on mobile devices.
The reaction? Mostly blank faces. That's understandable. For a start, it sounds expensive. What Y2K told us (remember that?) is that software lasts forever because no-one wants to re-write something that basically works. So if you've got a website, no-one wants to be compelled by outside forces to create a new one. Most people would prefer to wait until the business itself needs to update the site. And soothsayers told us we'd have flying cars by now so ...
Even so, new websites are being built today that aren't mobile friendly. Shock! (I know!) Even I've just been through a website rebuild in which, basically, the client's in-house designer insisted on a design that wouldn't adapt for mobile users.

Graphic design resists mobile flexibility

Usually graphic designers have boundaries to work to. TV, film, books, magazines, van-sides, billboards .. all have a defined height and width. The web doesn't. A web user could be using two or three screens side by side to create a surround-video experience. Then the next user could be using a smartphone in portrait mode. A decent modern website should adapt to both and everything inbetween. The web does this naturally, it's often graphic designers who don't.
To illustrate this, and show you how you can very quickly and easily tell whether your website or anyone else's is flexible enough for mobile users, I baked this quick video for you:
Working without boundaries, thinking flexibly, is a huge change for most graphic designers. If you think how you'd typically receive a proposal from a graphic designer, it would be in a PDF or similar. So now if you want to show how a website flexes for different users you'd have to have several PDFs. Then what about mouse rollover behaviour? What about how the website will look different to the second time visitor, or the one who is logged in? PDFs are not ideal for any of this. The pain of this change is why the graphic designer I mentioned above insisted on a fixed width website implementation. Flexibility is change and change is work to a graphic designer.
Here's the thing though. A fixed design that's easy for the designer could be hard for the web developer. A flexible design that's easy for the web developer might be hard for the graphic designer. Either way it will cost the same, but a static, fixed, graphic-led website harks to the past, while a flexible, mobile-enabled, responsive website sets you up for the future.
Check your website Analytics to see whether you are selling less to mobile users. The website I'm talking about here in this blog is selling nearly 10% less to mobile users. Again, that's an argument against traditional graphic design, and for insisting on flexible, mobile-friendly, responsive web design in your next project.
What you really need is a graphic designer who is genuinely excited about the latest developments in responsive web design. They won't just say they are, their excitement will show. It's uncommon. So keep looking. (Of course, I've found someone so feel free to get in touch).

Most web traffic will soon be from mobile devices

Why am I writing about this now? Well, as I write it's the start of 2013 and the futurists have been telling us that pretty soon most visitors to websites will be using mobile devices such as smartphones and tablet computers, not desktop computers.
Let me say that again. Soon, most web users will be using mobile devices that (probably) your website is really rubbish at (but perhaps your competitor's isn't).
How soon?
Well, that's the thing. I just did some analysis, and here in the UK, I'm saying we've got twelve months. January 2014 is when I'm saying more than 50% of traffic will come from users on mobile devices. Here's the graph using real stats from a real client.
Mobile traffic is predicted to overtake desktop traffic in the UK in January 2014
If you've got Analytics installed, you can check your own stats (Analytics, left hand side: Overview/Mobile, Overview, and maybe top right change your dates so you're comparing (say) this year to last).

Flexibility isn't all

Flexibility of display isn't the only thing.
There might be a difference between what the mobile user wants and what the desktop user wants. A mobile visitor to a pub website on a Friday night probably wants to know when last orders is, and what band is playing and when they start, and perhaps where the pub is. The desktop visitor in the middle of the day might want to know if she has to book in order to eat later, and what the menu's like.
You can mark up a website so that clicking the phone number automatically calls it if the user is using a smartphone. Or clicking the postcode fires up directions.
More than anything, design for mobile is another chance to rethink your website. If a mobile device has to provide one piece of information first, what is that, and why? It means you have to focus on your visitors' needs, and that's a fabulously powerful thing that can really simplify your website and make it better for everyone.
So take the opportunity. Build a website that works for all your customers, and enjoy a better business 2013.

By John Allsopp
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