Mobile-friendly, Mobile-responsive, and Responsive design

Over the last decade, there has been a significant rise in the use of smartphones and an outstanding surge in mobile web traffic. At the same time, websites have become progressively more complex and interactive. Therefore, the need for these websites to work properly and efficiently in mobile phones has become increasingly vital. In this context, the terms “mobile-friendly” or “responsive design” should definitely ring a bell. However, you may have doubts about how they differ, given that they’re often used interchangeably, sometimes even causing confusion among web developers. So, in this article, we will explain the differences between mobile-friendly, mobile-optimized and responsive design, and cover which of these options is more likely to help your website succeed.

Mobile-friendly vs Mobile-responsive

Mobile-friendly design

When we say a website is mobile-friendly, we mean it looks exactly the same no matter what device you are using to access it. Initially, mobile-friendly sites were just meant to look the same in both mobile and desktop browsers. However, this idea has since evolved, and it now means having a separate website for mobile devices (which again looks the same in all of them) from the one shown on desktop. Mobile-friendly sites are somewhat limited as creating a second full-blown website can be expensive and burdensome. This is why they are usually just a shrunk or slimmed-down version of the desktop site.

Mobile-optimized design

As you can see, mobile-friendly sites do the bare minimum to function properly on a mobile device. Mobile-optimized sites, however, go one step further. Mobile optimization isn’t a simplified or smaller version of the desktop site; it actually entails reformatting your site to cater to the needs of a mobile browser and of each mobile device. A mobile-optimized website may include “thumb-friendly” navigation (as opposed to “cursor-friendly” for desktops), large graphics, smaller image file sizes, a minimized need to type any information, and a single column layout. The design of these sites is simplified so users can find information more quickly and easily.

Responsive design

A mobile-friendly site is loosely adapted to a mobile device and a mobile-optimized one does as much as possible to give easy access to information to mobile users. When it comes to responsive design, this adds the feature of adapting to any device and screen size, for both desktop and mobile devices. This means the various components of the website change depending on the device you are using; this might translate into images and text adapting in size, content layout adjusting to each screen and menus switching formats for improved visualization. You can easily verify if a website is responsive by shrinking or expanding your browser window.

Bonus: mobile-first strategy

Traditionally, websites are thought to be accessed through desktop browsers and are therefore developed with these in mind first. However, if you come to the conclusion that your target audience is more likely to use your site through their mobile device, a mobile-first strategy might be a better fit. Here, the mobile version of your site is designed first and only then adapted to other screen sizes. This results in giving priority to a simpler design and saving you the trouble of having to adapt various complex features to achieve a responsive site.

Mobile-friendly and Mobile-responsive

Which is better?

Like with many features in the development industry, the best option for your product will depend on the product and its requirements. You will need to ask yourself what the purpose of your site is, what you want it to do for visitors and what devices you expect visitors to use to access the site. Your budget will also be a deciding factor between these three types of design as mobile-optimized and responsive designs are logically more expensive to develop.

If your main customer will be visiting your website on their computer and your budget is limited, a mobile-friendly design will suffice. If you have an e-commerce platform that is more likely to be used on mobile devices, you should definitely invest in a mobile-optimized or responsive site. However, the reality is that a significant portion of web traffic comes from mobile devices, so, if you have the means, optimized or responsive design are worth considering no matter the context.

Final thoughts

We are living in a mobile-first world and regardless of the type of website you have in mind, you should always take its mobile version into account. The three available options vary both in complexity and cost, but should all be carefully weighed in order to choose the best fit. We hope this article has given you some insight to help you with your next web development project.