Under the Microscope
When designing for small screens keep in mind that everything you do is under the microscope - design patterns, interactions, usability, speed — everything. These wonderful little devices that we cup in our hands offer a small, personal and intimate window in which to enjoy the web.
It is more important than ever that we get the little details right. A small screen space is limited in what we can show at any particular moment - and that’s what we are dealing with here, lots of tiny moments. By contrast a large screen offers plenty of room for design problems to hide or go mostly unnoticed. Small displays don’t allow that. They are unforgiving to poor design decisions which is why a lot of designers are quick to scrutinise and attack a poorly implemented responsive design. This type of scrutiny is more often than not about the design and technical aspects whereas users scrutinise with a different lens which generally concerns more important aspects content and value.
I suggest looking at a confined layout as a series of moments. Ask difficult questions of it: "Does this moment achieve what I want it to achieve?", "Does this particular moment offer any value?”, "Does this moment facilitate or distract from the overall message/objective/goal?", "Does this moment make sense independently or does it require the bigger picture to give it context?"
Our design decisions are magnified in this personal space. It’s a rewarding space that can offer intimacy and undivided attention - small screens deserve good experiences and a responsive approach1 can allow that good experience to permeate any device or dynamic that it is faced with.
Aside: responsive design doesn’t just mean making things work on small displays. ↩