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Websites in Motion

When you're designing your site for the mobile web, the secret is simplicity.
Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the September 2010 issue of . Subscribe »

Juniper Research estimates that the number of mobile web users will grow from 1.2 billion this year to more than 2.4 billion in 2014. While many of these users will be able to surf the mobile web just as they do on their desktop and laptop computers, hundreds of millions of others will still be using smart phones with tiny screens and limited bandwidth and navigation.

This makes it imperative for your company's web designers to acquire tools and techniques for optimal mobile web design. On the mobile web, minimalism is essential because screen size is small, users may pay for bandwidth by the megabyte, and navigation is likely to be more difficult.

To simplify your mobile design, take the following steps:

  • Streamline the menu system.
  • Reduce or eliminate graphics, especially those used in navigation.
  • Scale back text and break it over multiple pages.
  • Eliminate Flash and JavaScript--design exclusively in plain HTML and XHTML using CSS (cascading style sheets).
  • Avoid pop-ups, which can be unpredictable on mobile platforms.
  • Think small. Mobile phone screen sizes and dimensions vary from 320 x 480 down to 128 x 160 pixels.

Use a mobile theme. In your content management system (CMS), use one set of CSSes for your main website and a separate set for your mobile website. Plug-ins are available for most open-source CMSes, including WordPress and Joomla, that can help mobilize your site with a separate mobile theme. Theseplug-ins can detect when a mobile browser is accessing the site and choose the minimalist CSS to display the site.

Test Your Mobility

To evaluate your website's mobile readiness, test it online using various validators and emulators: page/site check
W3C mobileOK Checker
Nokia N70 / Sony K750 emulator
Opera Mini

Design to scroll only vertically. Limit page width so that users do not need to scroll horizontally to view content. Users should be able to view everything on a page by scrolling up and down.

Facilitate touchscreen navigation. Make options larger and increase the "clickable" space around them to facilitate touchscreen navigation. This makes the options easier to select on non-touchscreen mobile devices, as well.

Maintain consistency with your main website. Design your mobile site with a familiar appearance and navigation so that users of your main website can transition more smoothly between the main and mobile site. Make sure users can access their favorite information and features using recognizable links.

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