Web Development

Mobile Experience On A Budget

This blog is largely read by people on traditional desktops and laptops. It’s mobile usage is a bit on the low side, though that’s changing. I decided I wanted to start making the mobile experience suck less, but I didn’t want to go as far as serving a whole new experience for mobile. Responsive web design is interesting, but I didn’t want to invest so much time in it just yet.

This is still an ongoing project, and partially an experiment but here is my game plan:

Make The Standard Design Light/Flexible

The site right now is actually pretty simple in design and structure. It’s a grid layout, everything is modular and ID/classed up. I’m a slight performance junkie and graphically impaired, so image use is pretty minimal and I’ve sprited what I could to make the design as light weight as possible. The core site itself is actually just a few requests. Everything that can benefit from being so is minimized/gziped to lessen the payload down the wire. JS is only included on pages where it’s needed. Light payloads and minimal requests are the name of the game.

This benefits all platforms. Even with 45 thumbnails from Project 365 images on one page, I still can load it all about 2.5 seconds on my laptop. That’s not terrible. Some say “think mobile first”. I say “think performance everywhere”. There’s no reason why performance should be limited to mobile.

Rejigger For Mobile

Step two is to adjust the site for mobile. In my case that means hiding some less useful things, and some size and layout related changes to fit on a smaller screen. Like I said, I’m not serving up a separate mobile site. My pages are already rather light and saving 1 KB doesn’t seem worth it to me just yet. I just want my existing site to not feel like a desktop site. This is more about usability. Performance wise I optimized with mobile in the back of my head while working on the desktop experience.

I didn’t want to include a separate mobile stylesheet since my changes are intended to be subtle and minimal. Besides, that’s a separate request for mobile users. Instead I appended to my existing stylesheet with something like this:

@media only screen and (max-device-width: 480px) {
    body  {
        min-width: 0;
        width: auto;
    #page {
        min-width: 0;
        width: 100%;
    /* and so on… */
@media screen and (max-device-width: 480px) and (orientation:landscape) {
    /* landscape specific CSS */

Like I said, I intended for my changes to be pretty subtle. This works pretty well. The one thing it can’t really handle is images. I tend to be pretty light on image use, so it’s not a deal killer for me. However I may eventually look at better solutions in the responsive image world. For now I’ll just make the editorial decision to keep image use tame.

In general my philosophy has been:

  • Does this have value in a mobile context? (no: hide it, yes: continue)
  • Can I adjust the layout/design to make this not suck on mobile? (no: hide it, yes: continue)
  • Is this more work than it’s worth? (no: do it, yes: hide it)

Final Thoughts

I’ve still got some more polish to do, I know <pre/> blocks don’t look/feel right and the comments area is still not quite there. The image gallery experience is not even started. But overall it’s still better than the desktop experience I was serving just hours ago.

Perhaps one day the paradigm will shift on this blog, but I don’t see that happening just yet. Most of what benefits mobile also benefits the desktop experience. This approach gives me an improved mobile experience with minimal hassle. I also benefit from not needing two do work twice as I would if I had a separate mobile experience. That means more time to be productive.

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