People are browsing the web on an increasingly wide array of devices. According to web analytics company StatCounter, most internet traffic now comes from mobile devices instead of desktop computers. As of late 2016, 51.3 percent of internet usage was from mobile devices or tablets. In 2009, 100 percent of internet usage was from people using desktops. The internet landscape is rapidly changing, and websites need to be designed with these realities in mind. Because of the mobile device boom, responsive design is the most important factor for modern websites.
A “responsive” website is this: the website responds to the platform a user is on. If someone is looking at the site from their smartphone, the site changes itself to look good on a smartphone screen. Text will rearrange itself, images will adjust, the menu will be different, and so on. A responsive website is easy to use, regardless of how someone accesses it.
Some web developers and designers now use a “mobile first” approach. They set up a website with the idea that most people looking at it will use mobile devices. People on desktop computers are more of an afterthought–they’re kept in mind, but in today’s world, it’s easier and better to think of mobile users first.
Aside from a responsive design (also known as a responsive layout), it’s important to also think about file sizes and loading times. Many internet users have a limited data plan for their mobile devices. To reduce strain on those users, websites have to be small and fast. According to data measurement company Nielsen, most people spend about one minute on a website. Internet users expect websites to load in a reasonable time. Unfortunately for some, that “reasonable time” keeps getting shorter. Users will leave a website if it’s taking too long to load. Google released the results of a study on loading times in late 2016. They discovered that over half of mobile site visits “are abandoned if pages take longer than 3 seconds to load.”
There are many techniques people use to reduce filesizes and improve loading times. This includes:
- Image optimization
- Asynchronous loading of scripts
- Browser caching
- Gzip compression
- Global Content Delivery Networks (CDNs)
Websites should also remember aesthetics. The user interface (UI) is most important. Links and buttons should be easily visible on all devices. Fingers are generally less precise than a mouse, and people don’t want to accidentally click on the wrong link. “Hamburger” menus are the most common for navigation. A website’s layout should be responsive and intuitive.
The actual look of a website (such as font choices and color schemes) is more of a tricky thing. It’s subjective, and different people have different needs. A business will likely have a brand identity, while a personal website is more relaxed. The current design trend leans toward minimalism, which–by no coincidence–is best for people using the internet on a mobile device.
In every case, modern websites are tailored to be fast and easy to use for as many people as possible.