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More searches happen on mobile devices than on desktops. A survey to determine the number of mobile searches found that they are two times more than desktop searches.

Let’s face it: mobile devices provide a much more convenient alternative for finding information than their counterpart.

That’s why businesses should optimize their websites for both mobile and desktop searches. However, you’ll quickly notice that web designs for either platform present unique differences.

On the one hand, a desktop has plenty of screen space you can add as many elements. On the other, a mobile device has limited space and you have to prioritize the items to display.

We highlight the differences in detail and ways to optimize user experience on each:


What is Desktop Web Design?

This is designing a website for large screens like laptops, desktops, and tablets.

A desktop-first approach allows you to spread content throughout the page so it’s less cluttered.

It also makes it easy for users to view important information and browse the website easily.

A desktop-first design approach is easier and cheaper.


What is Mobile Web Design?

Mobile web design is the process of optimizing a website for mobile searches.

Historically, designers would develop desktop versions of websites and then optimize them for mobile devices.

This approach is dated, given the exponential growth of mobile searches.

Now, designers use a mobile-first design approach and then progressively optimize the website for larger screens like desktops and tablets.


Differences Between Designing for a Desktop and a Mobile Device

Here are the fundamental differences between desktop and mobile web designs:

The Screen Size

This is the most obvious difference and presents unique website design benefits. Mobile devices have smaller and narrower screens, providing less space for interaction and navigation.

That’s why designers use a minimalistic approach to display essential elements.

For example, you’ll notice a website has a scroll-down menu on a desktop but a pull-out menu on a mobile device.

That’s because desktops have larger screens, providing more space to display visual elements and information.

Web designers must determine the best way to display information on the screen sizes and how to adapt content for each.

The responsive design technique has been the go-to solution, ensuring the website adjusts to the respective screen width.

Interaction methods

How you interact with content on desktops and mobile devices is strikingly different.

Mobile devices rely on touch input, allowing users to adjust text sizes, images, or other features with their fingers.

Conversely, desktops use mouse and keyboard input, allowing users to move the cursor and type more accurately.

Designers must be mindful of each platform’s interaction and interface elements to tailor them to respective input methods and modes.

That’s why mobile interface elements are larger and more spaced to allow touch input, while desktop interface elements are smaller and more detailed.


You’re more likely to use mobile devices to make quick searches, but you use a desktop when you want to do longer, more tasking work.

Desktops display more content, features, and functions than mobile devices.

However, you’ll notice that mobile designs are more ingenious as they have more exclusive features than desktops.

Features like mobile contact lists, multiple cameras, augmented reality, and more are readily available on mobile devices, not desktops.

Content Organization

Desktops offer much flexibility when designing layouts and positioning images, texts, and other elements.

That’s why content can appear in a traditional multi-column format, like in magazines or newspapers.

Mobile devices can only support single-column formats to display content, but there’s a silver lining.

You can easily switch between portrait and landscape views, allowing more user personalization and functionality.

Even so, the design orientations mean more work for the designers.

Another difference between the designs regarding content organization has to do with scrolling. Mobile devices support continuous scrolling, especially for highly long texts.

The technique saves on screen space and makes interaction more fun. More designers are transferring this mobile design trend to desktops.


How to Optimize User Experience

Mobile and desktop web designs differ, but you can still optimize the user’s experience on either platform. Here are some tips:

Focus on Simplicity

Mobile screens have limited real space, hence the need to focus on simple web designs. A clean and tidy design makes the text readable and allows you to use visual cues to convey important information.

Prioritize a Mobile-first Design

A mobile-first design can easily add elements as you adapt it to larger screen sizes.

On the contrary, a desktop-first design requires a lot of backtracking when fine-tuning it to a smaller screen size.

Leverage Responsive Layouts

Responsive designs are easy to adapt to various screen sizes. Designers can test them on different devices to ensure the user enjoys a consistent experience across the board.

Prioritize Design Elements

Mobile devices only have so much space, hence the need to identify the most critical design elements that must be displayed.

List and prioritize them from the most to the least important. It’s easy to decide which elements to display on the most visible screen locations and which to place in hamburger menus.

Take Advantage of Columns

We mentioned that desktop applications support multi-column formats, allowing you to add elements like sidebars.

Since mobile devices have single-column formats, adding such features can be challenging, hence the need to organize content strategically.

A good rule of thumb is to organize the content vertically and display the images above or below the text.

Short sentences, bullet points, short paragraphs, and headings also help break up the text, improving readability. Remember, content must be easily digestible on mobile devices.



Designing websites for mobile and desktops presents unique differences, and understanding them is critical to enhancing a user’s experience on either platform.

From the screen sizes to the interaction methods to the content organization methods, and more.

You want to make the most essential information visible on mobile because the screen space is limited.

Conversely, desktops have a lot of real estate, so you don’t need to prioritize the content you display.

A good rule of thumb is to go for a mobile-first design and then adapt it to larger screen sizes.

Remember to optimize the designs to enhance the user’s experience. For more tips on optimizing your web designs on mobile or desktop, contact our experts.

Paul Simiyu

Founder and Team Lead of Simpaul Design, a brand strategy and design agency in Nairobi, Kenya. Here at Simpaul Design, we work with brands across various categories with a focus on connecting with consumers and building brands that people want to be a part of. We specialize in brand identity and strategy, UX/UI, and brand transformation.

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