Should Web Design Focus on Desktop-Down or Mobile-Friendly?


An interesting Facebook post asked whether designing in WordPress should incorporate a ‘desktop-down’ or ‘mobile-friendly’ approach.

In the past, I told you how important it is that your blog’s design be mobile-friendly. But there’s more than one way to get there.

I belong to a WordPress group on Facebook and from time to time, I actually understand what people ask. (I’m a Mac guy: We focus on the content side. I don’t pretend for a moment to be a software engineer.)

Back in July 2018, I said if your blog wasn’t mobile-friendly, now was the time to fix it. Nearly three years later, you should consider yourself seriously late to that party if your site isn’t mobile-friendly.

Web stats paint an important picture.

In the Facebook discussion, someone linked to a report from Statcounter about desktop vs. mobile usage. The report looked at website use for the month of February. It found that as of February 2021, mobile web accounted for more than 54% of platform share. This means more than half of web users are accessing through their mobile devices — smartphones. Tablets made up less than 3%.

Desktop took the remaining 43%.

If you look at the numbers for what they’re worth, more than half of web users are accessing the web through a smartphone.

If I look at my site’s stats, I see almost exactly the same numbers. Mobile accounts for 53.93%, desktop claims 43.33% and tablet takes 2.74%.

The fact that more people view the web on mobile is not new. But since December, mobile seems to have the highest lead in a year.

Desktop-down or mobile-friendly?

Ideally, your blog’s design — through its theme — should have independent looks for either. You have different screen sizes between desktop/laptop and smartphone. Your theme should take that into account and adjust the layout. This gives your viewers a better web experience.

You will find most themes seem to start with the desktop version. The desktop-down approach designs your website using a desktop layout. It then makes that design fit in the mobile space.

Have we reached a point at which that should happen the other way around? I don’t think we’ve reached that point quite yet. I suspect sites that sell blog themes may experience more sales on their desktop site. There’s a good chance, I’d bet, that most bloggers execute a new theme on a desktop or laptop rather than on mobile, too.

While readers may visit blogs more often on mobile, the backend maintenance of a site is much easier to handle on the desktop platform.

Even in my real job, producing web content on a desktop platform is infinitely easier than trying to produce the same content on a phone. A good portion of the blame there falls on the web platform, not the theme.

But when I want to see or try a new layout, I’m going to go to the desktop version first. Every single time.

There’s a reason the two designs shouldn’t be identical.

If you asked me for the best example I’ve seen on why a desktop and mobile design should differ, I’d say Facebook.

Most Facebook users probably see both designs a good bit of the time. It’s possible more people use Facebook on their phone, whether viewing it or adding to it.

But the desktop Facebook design looks different from the mobile Facebook design.

Don’t believe me? Try this little experiment the next time you’re on a desktop or laptop computer: Go to this website: That’s the mobile layout for Facebook. (Note: It won’t work if you try it on a mobile phone because that’s the view you already have.)

On a desktop, the mobile layout looks horrible. You won’t find sidebars. The long column of posts stretches across the entire screen. There’s lots of white space because there’s lots of extra horizontal screen space on desktop that doesn’t exist on a smartphone screen.

Clearly, you do not want the same look on mobile that you have on desktop and vice versa.

But which should you design first?

There’s the real question. I think while more developers start with the desktop design, I don’t see that it matters as long as they include a mobile-friendly design.

One of the commenters to the Facebook group post, Sean from the United Kingdom, may have said it best. He wrote, in part:

Doesn’t matter if the world stats say 50/50, or 10/90 – every visitor is important and should be getting a good experience. 

To put it another way, always consider your audience.

Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.