Will Mobile Formats Change Web Design Habits?

Back in July, I wrote in this blog about how Reader, a new feature in Apple’s Safari browser, called attention to the proliferation of clutter in most Web page layouts. My hope was that tools like Reader and its peers, Readability and Instapaper, would encourage cleaner Web design.

It was, admittedly, a faint hope. But I was heartened this week to read an article on The Media Briefing that suggests a much stronger corrective is on the horizon. Its author, Martin Belam, notes how, as computer monitors have grown ever larger, publishers have happily stuffed all kinds of buttons, icons, ad formats, link collections, and other flotsam into their browser pages.

With the exploding popularity of mobile form factors, whether phone or tablet, that approach to design will change:

“There simply isn’t room for 15 related story links, a most-read panel, and 100 ways to share an article on the screen of a smartphone or small tablet—not to mention advertising. This forces a concentration on what the user is most likely to want to do next after consuming a story. It means carefully thinking about whether uniform global navigation that can take you from any one section to all other possible sections is appropriate. It also means thinking about what are the real interactions you are hoping to encourage from the reader—to share the story, to comment on the story, or to dive deeper into a specific topic?”

Though he doesn’t quite say it, Belam strongly implies that the design habits required of mobile content producers will spread to Web producers. The mechanism behind this influence is unclear, but I’d guess it has something to do with readers’ preferences. Faced with a choice between the clutter of the Web and the simplicity of mobile, they will choose mobile. And as that trend accelerates,  Web designers will respond with simpler, streamlined designs.

So maybe it’s time for all of us to think mobile. As Belam says, cutting back on “the bells and whistles that make up so much online furniture” encourages “deeper and more engaged reading.” As content producers, why would we want anything less?