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June 21, 2013 By Hendrik-Jan Francke

Why changes to the web aren’t about the web at all

Smashing Magazine recently posted an excellent article analyzing one intriguing question:
How much has the web really changed?.

The article dispels several generalizations from the web of yester-year and provides new suggested ‘defaults’ based on the way user interaction has evolved. While the in-depth, techie details of the post are primarily for consumption by web developers and designers, the core message needs to resonate with companies and organizations alike:
The way users interact with the web is changing, so websites must change as well.

Why is the web changing?

Because people are turning to smart phones and tablets to access content via the web. More than 55% of users access the web via a mobile device. As mobile is quickly coming to represent the online majority, it is more important than ever to optimize a site for these users. These smaller screens and touch screens are shifting people’s content consumption behaviors. So…

Design for mobile first

A ‘mobile first’ mentality ensures your message is optimized for users on every device. This forces you to prioritize your content to keep the most important information first—pushing less important content to the bottom or to interior pages. In your writing,it forces you to create more dense content that uses fewer words to convey key messages.

Make your site easy for users to activate

The overwhelming shift to mobile has changed the way users interact with the web in innumerable ways; the change from ‘click’ to ‘touch’ is probably the most dramatic and revolutionary changes in user behavior. Why? Because it completely changes the way users “activate” your site.

The author, Vasilis van Gemert, coined this term in place of “touch”.
He reasons:

All devices, no matter what kind of input they offer, let the user activate something in some way.

Simply put, “activate” refers to the way users initiate their desired action on your site. This is an important concept as users move towards touch devices because it renders “click and drag” functionality irrelevant (sites full of hover menus & tiny buttons are difficult, and sometimes impossible, for mobile users to use).

To ensure your site is accessible to the growing majority (mobile), it rely on “touch” and “swipe” activation features.

Takeaway: Design for how the majority of people use the web

The real change here is not about the web; it is about the user. We should design the web for the way the majority of people use it. Meeting the user’s expectations and ensuring your site delivers a positive user experience is your first step in the door to making a sale. So why make them struggle with the conventions of yesterday?

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