Book Review: A “Mobile First” development process


Mobile First Review ThumbnailMobile First by Luke Wroblewski is the fifth release in the A Book Apart series aimed at those in the web industry. Like the other books in the series, this is a compact book designed to get right to the core of a particular topic.

This book is unlike Responsive Web Design, which targeted developers and contained a significant amount of code. Mobile First makes it’s points by example, and as such, of the book consists of visual examples that show both good and bad practice. The content in this book is largely conceptual and visual in nature, rather than focusing on syntax.

Wroblewski begins by framing the mobile user as a different user than the desktop user, and shows some examples of how popular sites revise their layout to accommodate mobile users. He explains that mobiles users are typically only interested in a subset of a website’s functions, and condensing your menus to emphasize common functions is a great way to appeal to mobile users. Giving yourself these constraints can help you to create a simple and easy to use mobile design.

Mobile browsers do have some capabilities that desktop visitors don’t, and Wroblewski discusses some contexts where those capabilities can make using your website easier for mobile visitors. One example of those capabilities is GPS, and if your website involves any kind of location-based search (i.e. movie times), you can auto-fill location information for the user based on their current GPS location. This reduces the amount of input that they need to perform, and only requires confirmation.

The way you organize your page for mobile browsing can also have a significant impact on how easy it is to use. Wroblewski states that in most mobile browsing, once you have selected a task or page, the primary thing that you care about is either performing that task, or viewing content on the page. The standard layout of navigation and search up top, and content below is no longer a great organization strategy, as the user is already where they want to be. Instead, put those kinds of navigation items below the content area, and put the content or task action first.

Next, Wroblewski dives into design a little bit, focusing a fair bit on touch screen users. These concerns focus largely around target area size and location. Most visitors with a touch screen operate their phones one handed, so making sure that major functions are available within thumb’s reach is important. Wroblewski also notes that many sites rely on hover functionality to bring up content, and that touch browsing visitors will not have a good way to access that content. The best way to handle this is to find an alternate way to deliver that hover content on a mobile device.

One of the most challenging and time consuming tasks on a mobile device is to input information, and Wroblewski presents a whole chapter full of strategies to make input easier on a mobile device — from using the correct input type to setting default values as often as possible.

Wroblewski wraps the book up with chapter on layout, which seems to be a quick summary of the previous book in the series, Responsive Web Design, that discusses ways to adapt the layout of page elements based on screen resolution. It’s a nice recap of ideas, but there’s not a whole lot of new information in this section. If you haven’t already read Marcotte’s book, go back and read it — it’s well worth the time.

If you’re new to designing for mobile browsers, Wroblewski’s Mobile First is an essential overview of the focal points.

Editor’s note: This is part of an ongoing series of posts highlighting books on the craft of web design. If you know a great book we should review, tell us at

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