On a device-agnostic approach

17 March 2014


Only a few years ago, most people went online using a desktop or a laptop.

A desktop computer

CC Image courtesy of Rakesh Ashok on Flickr

Today and beyond

Now people use a myriad of devices over a varying connections summed up as “hostile browsers, tiny screens, slow connection speeds, touch inputs

Many mobile devices

CC Image courtesy of Jeremy Keith on Flickr


Tablets and smartphones will make up most of the sales of connected devices

Graph of mobile device growth

Image from IDC

A mobile world

Mobile is often the only point of internet access in some parts of the world

Map of mobile share of web views

Image from We Are Social

Are we building a digital product for yesterday or tomorrow?

Projected mobile device growth

See this post for lots more stats

Traditional approach

Design and build desktop site first – consider this the “complete version”. Then consider a mobile site – slimmed down version of desktop version – either as separate site or using media queries – “responsive design”

  • Bad for users – Penalise them for visiting site on a smaller device when most people want full access.
  • Painful to maintain – No easy or coherent evolution of design

What if we turn it around?

Make the product:

  • Work well at many different screen sizes
  • Built for speed and performance on many devices / connection speeds
  • Work for touch screen and even “no-screen” (accessibility/APIs etc)
  • Promote content over navigation

Mobile first is a bit misleading

It’s really about starting to design from the content outwards.

Device agnostic

Content, presentation, interface – Reduce to the minimum amount necessary

  • Forces you to focus and prioritize by embracing constraints
  • Ensures you don’t have to maintain separate sites
  • Serves your users in countries with poor connections by default

Different devices and poor connections are not after-thoughts: they are at the heart of the product.

Progressively enhance for particular devices only when evidence of demand exists.

Data structures and editorial / content decisions are the biggest issues. Technical and design issues are secondary.

If we think about the content first, working on any device, all other considerations slot into place.

Hierarchy of content needs

Some ways of prioritising and thinking about content in a device-agnostic project:

  1. Access
  2. Legibility
  3. Ease of comprehension
  4. Relevance – to the need, moment, interests, behaviour, and personal history
  5. Everything else: Later access, ease of reference, etc</ul>

See this post on responsive web publishing for more details.