2014 has gone down in history as the year in which mobile usage usurped desktop as the most popular way to access the web.

This change has a more significant effect than a lot of people realize. Not only has this “on-the-go” nature of mobile changed how we consume content, it has altered our lifestyle as we know it.

For one, given all the information literally at our fingertips, attention spans are shorter than ever. In fact, studies have shown the average is right around eight seconds.

Two, and I’m sure we can all relate, patience is a dying virtue. There is perhaps nothing more infuriating than waiting for a mobile web page to load. While there have been all kinds of reports done on how loading speed affects conversion rates, the bottom line is that tolerance for slow websites is lower than ever.

Apparently, Google is frustrated as well. So much that mobile speed is now said to be a prominent factor involved in their search ranking algorithms. Since Mobilegeddon occurred a couple short years ago, one thing is blatantly clear: Responsive mobile design is a thing, and a very important one.

With the number of mobile users increasing well into the billions, the price of not updating your website to fit the mold can be catastrophic.

Online users seldom return to a website following a negative user experience. While a bad experience can be caused by many different reasons, certain design flaws can render the material on your site useless.

So the question remains: Does content or design take priority?

Truth be told, the answer is not black and white.

The classic Bill Gates quote, “Content is King” will always hold value. However, in terms of mobile, there are many ways in which it can take a backseat.

There is a myriad of factors to take into consideration. In addition to website speed, you will need to look at design aspects like:

  • Space – How can content and negative space work together for an efficient UX?
  • Images – How will images be delivered on mobile?
  • CTA buttons – What will CTAs look like and where will you position them?
  • Navigation – How can the flow be organized so the user stays on track?
  • Visual hierarchy – Which parts of the site do you want the audience to see first?
  • Built-in functions – Should you include things like actionable contact information or local directions?
  • Accommodation – Should you reduce the volume of brand material based on device size?

When you sit down and start hammering out the finer details of your mobile website, you will soon realize the content and the design are intertwined.

Take Fitts’ Law into consideration. Established in 1954, this concept refers to a model of human movement which can accurately predict the amount of time taken to move and select a target. Even though this law was created in relation to the physical world, it applies directly to the behavior of human-computer relations and click movement throughout an interface.

In essence, when a user is browsing a mobile platform, there will be certain clickable areas easier to access than others based on appearance and design.

For instance, the majority of conversions are made with an actionable CTA button located towards the top of the page. This directly applies to Fitts’ Law because it’s the first clickable element to be seen and is located in a convenient spot for mobile browsing. For this reason, most e-commerce platforms design their mobile pages to feature a search function in this position so users are quickly given the opportunity to explore the bulk of the content.


What does this mean for the big picture?

Think of it this way. Your mobile website is similar to a labyrinth (more or less). Your content is like the treasure stored in rooms all over the platform. The elements of your design strategy act as the pathways through the vast maze to get to the desired rooms. Keep in mind, users these days don’t want to jump through a bunch of hoops or deal with roadblocks to find treasure. They want the labyrinth to present it to them with minimal effort. If the paths are blocked, inaccessible, or pose serious obstacles to get to the destination, users will become frustrated and look for treasure elsewhere without a second thought – regardless of how valuable yours is.

When it comes to mobile websites, it would be inaccurate to explicitly say design is more important than content, or vice-versa. Both serve different purposes and feed off each other. A reputation for subpar brand content will turn just as many people away as poor design mechanics. The latter will only do it quicker.

My parting advice: always make sure your mobile design and UX are up to specs before publishing content. Test usability on a frequent basis. Once you have determined the pathways in your labyrinth are intuitive as can be, your content will get the love it deserves – both from visitors and search engines.