It was only seven years ago, in 2007, that Apple released its first iPhone and completely changed the way many folks access the Internet. In those few years, the growing prevalence of mobile devices has been continually shaping the world of web design. Today, what began as merely another branch of Internet marketing is shaping how all web design is taking place. How a website appears on a mobile device is now equally as important, if not more so for some businesses, as its appearance on a desktop.
In the early years of the World Wide Web, most websites relied on copy-heavy webpages. This made sense at a time when almost all users accessed the Internet on desktop or laptop computers with large screens fit for reading large bodies of textual information.
But when smartphones hit the market, mobile users refused to zoom in and scroll through long blocks of text on their small screens. Web designers adapted by switching to ‘mobile-switched sites’, which would display content differently if the website sensed that it was being rendered on a mobile device, usually with textual content larger and easier to read. If you have ever gone to a website on a mobile device and seen the url add ‘m.’ to the beginning, you’ve witnessed a ‘mobile-switch.’
The ‘mobile-switch’ strategy sufficed for a short time before tablet devices and the infamous iPad arrived on the scene in 2010. These new devices were neither here nor there on the resolution spectrum between mobile and desktop, and so simply designing two website interfaces, one for desktop and one for mobile, no longer worked. Websites now had to display on anything from a compact smartphone to a smaller iPad to a larger tablet device to a high-res desktop monitor.
Thus, ‘responsive web design’ came into being, with websites being designed to ‘respond’ to any device’s specifications and to render beautifully in any dimensions at any resolution, thus meeting the customer/viewer on whatever device he/she may choose. This design strategy has led to the integration of more visual website configurations that rely less on copy and more on flexible buttons and images, designs fitting for a touchscreen interface.
Nowadays, with almost half of all Internet traffic taking place through mobile and tablet devices, responsive websites tend to be designed with mobile appearance at the forefront. Sleek visual designs and streamlined user experience have replaced the copy-heavy websites of yesteryear, and more and more websites have that overall mobile interface feel, more suited to a touchscreen than a mouse’s cursor. Mobile web design has begun to ‘wag the dog’ – the aesthetic elements of mobile website design, once only a small part of the Internet marketing world, has revolutionized and now defines cutting-edge web design overall.