Mark Hawkins. Image supplied.
Optimising web content for mobile is a business imperative, especially in developing regions such as Africa, believes Mark Hawkins, operations director for Bluegrass Digital.
Bluegrass Digital is a South African web solutions company and Hawkins said the importance of mobile on the continent is “magnified” because the majority of Africans only access the internet through their handsets.
“Added to this, the variety of gadgets that middle and higher income consumers have to choose from is expanding at a rapid pace,” said Hawkins.
“Instead of being limited to a stationary desktop PC (personal computer), consumers can arm themselves with sleek notebooks, feather light laptops, tablets, phablets, and of course, the ubiquitous smartphone.”
According to Hawkins, these smart device trends have “massive implications” for all businesses, regardless of size.
He said this means companies must rethink the presentation of their information appearing in digital format and confirm whether this information is scalable to mobile, is easily accessible and engaging.
Mobile first responsive web design (RWD) is not a new concept, but people are paying attention to it due to its ability to provide good user experience across the platforms of multiple devices, as well as allowing websites to increase their reach.
“A mobile-first RWD approach has many benefits. For one, it enables any device capable of accessing the web to have a functional experience on your site.
“addition it ‘democratises’ the web by enabling websites to reach more people, and it also gives designers the opportunity to utilise new mobile technologies such as gesture events, barcode-scanning and geolocation,”said Hawkins.
Hawkins said mobile first RWD is about preparing content to go anywhere, starting with mobile web. However, he said many companies are hesitant in adopting new formats because they think its a lot of work, and Hawkins said this is the truth.
“Taking a mobile-centric approach and creating different formats and content for different devices requires a big investment of time and resources and prioritising what you think is most important for your business,” said Hawkins.
He said companies have, in the past, created stand-alone mobi-sites, but due to the time and costs involved in developing separate code for different devices increases quickly.
Regarding where to start, Hawkins said its best to look at the existing content and decide what is important for mobile users.
Once this has been decided upon, the next step involves structuring it in a way that is relevant across devices and formats and creates meaning for users.
In terms of challenges, Hawkins said: “Unsurprisingly, the mobile format is far more challenging for designers than any other, with its inherent instability and space restrictions. That is why by starting with the mobile experience and then by building out from there – you are laying the essential foundations.”
He said the mobile format will be more successful over multiple devices if is is relevant and reliable.