Mobile-first or responsive web design: which approach to choose

Mobile-first or responsive web design: which approach to choose

No doubt that the internet has been embedded in every aspect of our day-to-day life. The world’s current population is estimated to be 7.8 billion people, 4.79 of which have access and use the internet daily. It is reasonable to assume that we are getting more and more internet-aware.

Another point is that 52.64% of those who have access to the internet use it through mobile phones. Undeniably, mobile phones have become integral attributes in our present life. It’s obvious that the digital world can’t deny this fact and what is more, it is constantly optimizing its work according to the current demands. It’s clear that a website that runs on a wide range of devices will have a higher capacity than one that does not.

Therefore a question arises to which approach it’s better to adhere – mobile-first or responsive web design? To answer this question we should define the difference between these two approaches.

The fundamental point of responsive design is that it automatically adjusts to the format used by the customers, regardless of what device they use – be it a smartphone, a tablet, or a laptop. Mobile-first design, in its turn, is oriented mostly for the mobile format.

It would make sense to mention two approaches that have directly influenced the web design sphere. Graceful degradation is a strategy that implies introducing such a design to function in as many browsers and platforms as possible. The initially made site functionality is designed primarily for more modern browsers, but at the same time, it should provide a basic level of functionality in the older ones. In particular, the essence of the graceful degradation approach is to start with complexity and then to diminish the design’s characteristics to fit in more primitive platforms. There is a similar strategy, but it functions the other way round. The mechanisms of progressive enhancement start with a primitive pattern and then expand its horizons to fit in more sophisticated platforms.

Mobile-first web design opens with bare essentials available primarily on the smaller platforms and then extends to operate on the larger ones. It is a way of creating web pages customized mainly for mobile access. In the setting of constantly increasing popularity of smartphones, the mobile-first approach undoubtedly has some significant advantages:

  • Mobile is popular.

In fact, mobile internet usage rates have outperformed desktop usage in 2016. A smartphone with the internet is a depository of all information needed. What is more, it’s the best solution in the context of hurried modern life. Thus the number of the targeted audience is likely to be considerable.

  • Content is a priority.

The available space of the mobile website is confined and the main task is to put the content as precisely as possible, avoiding excessive design elements. So it meets the needs of the audience without wasting their time on irrelevant information.

  • Fast speed.

Mobile websites have a simple code and there is no need to download additional assets except mobile ones. Therefore the overall speed is faster and usability is higher.

  • A gradual increase in user experience.

The mobile-first design allows increasing user experience gradually as the screen gets larger.

There is no doubt that a mobile-first strategy can be successful. However, it has some distinct shortcomings and is not for every business:

  • Unsuitable for text-heavy sites.

Mobile websites usually provide concise content.

  • Time and effort-consuming.

The mobile-first design approach can take a lot of time to be built, as it takes a dedicated team that understands the essence of the mobile platform.

Many companies prefer employing a responsive web design approach. Responsive web design is an approach that responds to the user’s behavior, taking into consideration the platform used. The major principle of this kind of design is flexibility. Responsive web design means a high ability to adjust to new conditions. The website structure adjusts to any layout and screen-size. Such websites are also equipped with resizable images.


  • Great flexibility.

Responsive design is flexible and adaptable. It adapts to each platform seamlessly, without ruining the content’s structure.

  • A single website that can be viewed from various devices.

Furthermore, a lack of the necessity to generate several designs reduces the costs.

  • Great for SEO optimization and large formats.

SEO optimization improves the user experience and raises website’s search ranking.


  • The difficulty of generating one design that will be equally responsive on various platforms.
  • Time-consuming process. The idea of a single design that suits numerous platforms can be hard enough to generate.
  • The user experience is gradually decreasing, as the screen gets smaller.

Both mobile-first and responsive approaches have their strong and weak sides. The mobile-first strategy is a relevant path while the responsive design is more of a standard model. Nevertheless, the choice of the approach directly depends on the website’s objectives and the needs of the targeted audience.

Do not choose the most common way if it does not fit your demands. Otherwise, you take the risk to reduce the customer base and lose the profit. The first thing to do is to define the purpose of your website. What is your website aimed for? What do you want your platform to do for visitors?

The next step is to examine your audience’s behavior. What devices will they possibly use to access your site? The truth is that the visitors will not differentiate between a mobile-first or responsive design. What’s important for them is the ability to find the information they need quickly and easily. To be clear about the clientele’s needs is to be well-informed and afterward to create a successful project.

Cristina Macias
Cristina Macias is a 25-year-old writer who enjoys reading, writing, Rubix cube, and listening to the radio. She is inspiring and smart, but can also be a bit lazy.