Mobile-friendly web design: Look before you leap into the future

Your new mobile-friendly website may unexpectedly shut out your customers or employees who use older desktop or laptop computers. Here’s why.

computer problemI do a lot of work updating the content of business websites. In the past year, much of that work has been driven by the shift to mobile-friendly web designs — designs that offer interactive content for touchscreen phones and tablets, along with content for traditional desktop machines or laptops that use mice or trackpads. To serve up content in this manner, the website is coded in two different versions. Small-screen devices get the mobile version of the site and large-screen computers get the desktop/laptop version (which often appears as a long scrollable page).

At least that’s the way it’s supposed to work.

This recent post from the agency Extractable talks about an unexpected disconnect one of their clients experienced when the client rolled out a new mobile-friendly web design. It worked well for the company’s users, but not for the company’s own employees. Some investigation revealed why. The users had new phones and tablets but the company’s own desktop computers were so outdated (with low-resolution screens) that those computers were perceived by the website code as small-screen devices and were thus shown the wrong version of the website.

The company’s employees were unable to see or access the main menu required to log in to user accounts and assist customers.

This is an unexpected illustration of science fiction novelist William Gibson’s observation that “The future is already here; it’s just not very evenly distributed.”

In this case, it was the company that had out-of-date computers. But I suspect this will also be a significant issue for business-to-business companies whose commercial customers are using  outdated computer systems. If customers can’t access the log-in menus, they won’t be able to access their accounts to place orders.

Bottom line: Before installing a major update to make your website trendy and mobile friendly, it might be worth checking first with two or three of your major customers to find out what technologies they are using to access your website for ordering, customer service, etc. Or, test the new system with those major customers so any necessary changes can be made in the code at your end. When it comes to business websites, there’s little point in leaping into the future until your customers and employees can go there with you.