Coding for Mobile-First: Building Responsive Websites from Scratch

January 18, 2024

Written by:

Gary Jackson, UX Developer

It is quite common knowledge that mobile browsing has increased dramatically over the last few years.

In fact, here at Uplift we have recently been working on building a new website for a client who currently has over 90% of their users viewing on a mobile device.

This posed the question when we were planning the build of the project: should we persist with the traditional desktop-oriented development, or should we switch to a mobile-first strategy? During this phase, we acknowledged the need to pivot our approach – shifting from the standard desktop-first method to a more flexible and user-centric mobile-first methodology.

From a technical standpoint, the pivot to mobile-first begins with the styling of a website using CSS (Cascading Style Sheets). This is the language responsible for the visual presentation of web pages and plays a pivotal role in shaping how content appears across various devices. In a traditional desktop-centric approach, CSS rules might prioritise larger screen sizes and then use media queries to adjust layouts for smaller screens. However, for the mobile-first approach, the initial CSS rules cater to mobile screens, and media queries are employed to enhance the layout for larger devices.

One of the defining features of CSS in mobile-first development is the use of ‘min-width’ media queries. These queries set specific CSS rules for screens larger than a defined minimum width, enabling developers to add layers of complexity and styling as the screen size expands. This inverted approach challenges developers to consider the most critical content and styles for mobile users, ensuring a streamlined experience regardless of the device.

Implementing a mobile-first strategy demands a mindset shift. It compels developers to focus on essential elements and content hierarchy, promoting simplicity and efficiency. By starting with the smallest screen sizes, developers are encouraged to prioritise what truly matters, resulting in cleaner, more concise codebases that optimise performance and user experience.

It’s something that no doubt will become our standard way of working too, as we work on more and more websites that are “mobile-first.”

In conclusion, the transition from traditional desktop-focused development to a mobile-first approach represents a fundamental shift in web development ideology.

It’s a journey that challenges developers to rethink their strategies, embrace certain constraints as opportunities, and ultimately deliver a much more intuitive and user-friendly website.


Gary Jackson


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