What’s the Difference Between Responsive and Mobile-First Sites?

We often hear both of these terms used and sometimes interchangeably, which is incorrect. 

We are here to explain the differences between what a responsive site is and what a mobile-first site is and why both are important. 

In all transparency, mobile-first does have a slight edge here and is an absolute must for any website being designed and developed today. 

Let’s see why below.


Mobile-first refers to the design of a website being created for various mobile screen sizes first. This ensures that right off the bat, the design no matter how intricate and elaborate, will fit and be dynamic on a mobile screen, no matter how small. Furthermore, the UX/UI will not suffer as a result of a smaller screen. Unlike responsive design, mobile-first takes into account user experience journeys and ensures that they are not overlooked throughout the design phase of the project. The idea is that no matter what size screen you are using to view a site, the experience that the designer has created and wants the end user to have will not be lost. 

Another thing to keep in mind is that mobile-first design also prioritizes content because it is aware that the dimensions it is working with are much smaller on a mobile device. This means that content must be created and selected strategically.

Many times, designers prioritize desktop design over mobile resulting in a negative mobile user experience because it wasn’t taken into account from the beginning. This means that if a mobile user is accessing your site, it’s very possible that they may not get the full UX/UI experience that was intended because certain elements or functionalities may not be translating. This is of course a shame since mobile browsing is actually leading desktop browsing. This needs to stop! Mobile-first is the only way to allow for all device users (which is literally everyone) to be able to fully experience a website. This is not optional! 

Responsive design

Responsive design refers to a website being able to adapt to different screen sizes. It is responding to any changes happening. It either shrinks or expands, depending on the device. This is an important step in web development, but it can’t stop here. Responsive design does not take into account the intended experience a website was designed for, which is a huge downfall. Mobile sites tend to look noticeably different or worse than desktop sites when they only have responsive design implemented.

So, what’s the takeaway?

If your site is mobile-first, then it is already responsive, however, if your site is responsive, that does not necessarily mean that it is mobile-first. Make sure that your web design team understands and is familiar with these two key website elements. They will make all the difference in the world! Your website MUST be designed mobile-first. No discussion.

Responsive sites are incredibly valuable, but they immediately lose users if they weren’t designed to be experienced on a mobile device or tablet. Whether we know it or not, we have all seen sites that neglected the mobile-first element. We are almost positive that upon realizing that the site was not built in a mobile-friendly way, you were on to the next one. 

Don’t take it from us! Google has made it very clear that mobile-first design is a huge element they look out for when crawling sites, which means if this is not done correctly, it can negatively affect your web traffic. 

There are so many moving parts to a website, and mobile-first is an incredibly important one. Let us handle all of the intricacies surrounding building a powerful and successful site that helps your business grow. Want to hear more about how we can help? Drop us a line