Function Will Always Trump Form With Mobile

by · July 29, 20134 comments

A recent conversation with a friend allowed me the opportunity to jump on my soapbox a bit. She was having frustration with an agency partner who was pushing back against the recommendations of a second agency partner which wanted to apply a simple design to her website’s mobile iteration. The pushback was focused on how the simplicity of the design took away from the aesthetic and beauty, the continuity of the brand’s look and feel and other such warm and fuzzies. 

From my soapbox, I said the following:

“If **AGENCY NAME REDACTED** is all uptight about how beautiful the site is or is not on a mobile phone, tell them I said to blow it out their ass. Function trumps form on a phone every time. Find evidence that’s not the case and I’ll eat my words, but when you’re on a phone, on the go, you want in-out-done. You don’t want to fawn over the emotions you feel because the teal and purple swirl symbolizes world peace or some other hippie shit. Tell them to play Monet with their hair, not my cell phone.”

I know. It’s a gift. Heh.

As rant-y as the response was, it’s that passionate because it’s right. As we all adjust to the mobile-first audience, we’re going to have to come to terms with some new realities. One of those new realities is that function will often trump form. Certainly, you can still make a mobile page and site look wonderful. But, as we discussed in our analysis of masculine shopping versus feminine shopping, your mobile user is one that is in the mode of get in, get out. They’re not window shopping, concerned about aesthetics or interested in pausing to consider how that color scheme makes them feel.

If you don’t believe me, look at mobile websites in Japan. If there are any graphics or artistic application at all, that site is an exception, not the rule. And yet the Japanese are a more than mostly mobile consumer audience.

Don’t misread me: I love a site, even a mobile one, that is beautiful, brings emotive qualities to the user and delivers on the brand’s aura. But if your design gets in the way of my user getting what they want from me on their phone and quickly, I won’t be in need of your creativity.

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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  • Neicole Crepeau

    Couldn’t agree more!! Functionality absolutely trumps form on mobile. And even on sites designed for laptops and tablets, I see too many designers focused on a beautiful site over a usable one. That’s a real pet peeve of mine. If users can’t find the information they need or accomplish they tasks they are focused on, they are going to abandon your site in frustration, whether it’s gorgeous or not. In web/app design, it’s a mistake to sacrifice usability for beauty!

  • Laura Worthington

    As someone who worked in mobile for 5+ years, I totally agree that functionality is king. It’s also important to look at the content that you are sharing on mobile and consider your audience. If you are creating an app or mobile site that is purely for branding then spend the money and time on making it pretty, but if you have quality content that drives usage, focus on speed, supporting more ways to share the content, mobile video, monetizing, etc. before you try to make something flashy and clunky. Look at your analytics before you do anything dramatic. That will help you understand what can be improved.

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  • Lisa Marie Wark

    Yeah thats is good information. Thanks.