Mobile First VS Responsive Design: How To Understand The Difference

So what does mobile first and responsive design mean? These buzzwords have been spreading because of the value and how important they are if you’re applying a mobile-first strategy.

Times have changed and the web isn’t what it is anymore, the landscape has been changed completely.

According to Google, searches of 68,000,000 carry traffic directly from mobile around the world per hour.  Nearly 70% of travelers search online via their mobile device.

Other findings include increased bookings on mobile platforms by 1700% from 2011 – 2015. This grew online revenue from 1 – 18 percent.  We’re now in 2019 and you can picture how much the numbers have risen!

Responsive design has become a buzzword in line with more mobile users.

The web is changing rapidly and we all have to adapt.

In fact, according to a marketing expert, Frederic Gonzalo conducted an online audit for a ski resort.  He discovered that nearly 70 percent of the ski resorts web traffic was also coming through from mobile devices!

Also in the travel industry mobile soared from 1% – 18% of online revenue.

Marketers have to make sure that they’re up-to-date on the latest mobile trends because we’re heading towards/if not already in the mobile era of marketing.

To ensure long-term success, marketers must be put on notice that mobile users are a force to be reckoned with.

Explaining Mobile-First Design

When embarking on your journey to re-create your website, it is not necessary to choose right away between mobile-first or responsive design.

Mobile-first is a design strategy, whereas responsive design is the result of a more technical approach.

Often, websites are created under the assumption that visitors will browse the website on its desktop computer. Later, the website undergoes modifications to allow it to be browsed on different devices like smartphones and tablets.

As the website is scaled down, this strategy is largely known as graceful degradation or desktop-first.

The downside to this is that multiple visual aspects adapt poorly to mobile devices when pulled from being optimized from desktops. In order to combat this, designers adopted a new approached titled progressive enhancement or mobile-first strategy.

This involves designing a website for the smallest device possible and then allowing yourself to adapt to desktop computers by scaling upwards.

The mobile-first concept, designed by Luke Wroblewski, suggests that mobile design should be at the core of the design strategy and should take into account the constraints and behavior associated with browsing on mobile devices.

This approach can be challenging for teams who habitually design desktops first.

For digital marketers, when commencing with the mobile-first strategy, it is necessary to categorize content based on importance and refine overall design – additional content can later be added for those browsing through desktops.

What Is The Meaning Of Responsive Design

Responsive web design describes when the website’s design is automatically adjusted based on the size of users’ screens.

In fact, you can determine whether or not a website is responsive by manually zooming in and out of the browser window.

With responsive design, users can easily browse a website regardless of what device they use.

The site’s layout and the content will change based on the width of a browser on a device.

You only need one website with responsive design and the content and user interface of your website is adapted so that visitors can seamlessly visit it on any browser and device.

You no longer have to create two versions of a website—one for mobile devices and another for desktops. There are ways to know if a site has been designed for mobile devices only with the URL that starts with an “m.” such as

Is A Mobile-First Strategy Right For Me?

Responsive design has become a buzzword in line with more mobile users.

Although it can be largely successful to implement a mobile-first strategy, it has not necessarily been adopted by every business or all web agencies as it may not be the right fit for all involved.

This is can be the result of the fact that it is notably expensive and may not garner the exact results you are searching for.

Investment in a website that is adapted for desktop computers is usually what companies prefer, coupled with the ability for mobile users to quickly and easily seek the information they are looking for.

But how to know with certainty that you really need to create a mobile-first website?

You can commence by gathering information about your visitors and creating personas that are based on your most relevant and necessary customer segments.

As you are the primary source of knowledge on who your customers are and what you need to achieve, the ideal solution is to harness this information, judge what devices your clientele is most likely to use, and what your budget is.

Questions you need to ask yourself:

  • Does my clientele mainly use mobile devices to browse the web?
  • Do my customers prefer searching the web on computers or mobile devices?

If your answers are geared towards mobile devices, then you know that you should opt for a mobile-first strategy. If not, then a mobile-first strategy is not necessarily right for you.

In regards to your target audience:

  • Why do your customers avoid visiting your website with their mobile devices?
  • Is it simply out of habit or because your website does not offer an appealing or intuitive browsing experience?
  • Would more customers visit your website with a mobile device if the interface was adaptive or responsive?

If you are unsure of the answers to these questions, you may have to experiment.


Remember that from the get-go, visitors will not initially distinguish between a responsive, adaptive or mobile-first website.

What’s important for visitors is the ability to quickly and easily find the information they need—and perform the actions they’ve set out to do. In fact, when designing a website, I like to think that we should all adopt a consumer-first strategy.

That’s really what it all boils down to… assuming you know who your target consumer is, of course!

Credit to Hootsuite  |  We Are Social  |  Frederic Gonzalo and you can follow him via Twitter