In his recent article in Library Journal (The Benefits of Less) Aaron Schmidt talks about simplifying library websites to make them more usable. He suggests that a good way to work on this is to think how the site would be designed for mobile devices:

Another way to brainstorm the most important parts of your website is to imagine you’re building a mobile version. Given the limited screen real estate available, what parts of your site are essential?

I suspect Schmidt is not aware of it — I haven’t seen it discussed much in library circles — but the idea of building the mobile version of a site first, before building the full desktop site, is more than just an imaginary brainstorming idea in the dotcom tech world — In 2009, Luke Wroblewski proposed his Mobile First idea that this is the best way to design a website — Design the site first for mobile, then work on the full site design. Last year, Google’s Eric Schmidt took up Wroblewski’s theme, saying in a speech at the Mobile World Congress that Google would “work on mobile first” in bringing new tools to the Web.

A few months ago, venture-capitalist Fred Wilson wrote an elegant summary of the Mobile First idea that resonates strongly with Aaron Schmidt’s ideas for designing library websites:

I was meeting with the team from one of our portfolio companies a few weeks ago and we were talking about a redesign of their new web service. I had told them I thought the initial design was too busy and too complicated to work well in the market. They showed me the iPhone app they were planning to release soon. I said “just do that on the web.” And happily they told me they were thinking the same thing.

Using the mobile web as a constraint to think about web design is growing in popularity. I see it in my own efforts and the efforts of our portfolio companies. When users spend more time accessing your service over a mobile device, they are going to get used to that UI/UX. When you ask them to navigate a substantially busier and more complex UI/UX when they log onto the web, you are likely to keep them on the mobile app and off the web app.

I’m starting to think a unifying vision for all apps should start with the mobile app, not the web app. And so it may also be mobile first web second in designing web apps these days.

Wilson could almost be talking about the same “busy, complicated” library websites that Aaron Schmidt talks about — Good website design for a venture capitalist is also good for libraries.

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Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

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