Focus on Mobile Web with Patrick McNeil

Focus on Mobile Web with Patrick McNeil

Having a good strategy for mobile web design is more important than ever. We asked Patrick McNeil (author, developer, teacher, speaker and design lover) to share his ideas about where he sees web design heading. He’s known primarily through his work with HOW magazine, as the author of a book series, The Web Designers Idea Book. Patrick is a frequent speaker at HOW’s Design Live and Interactive Design Conferences.

His 5th book, The Mobile Web Designers Idea Book, was just released and it focuses specifically on mobile web design. In addition to creating and teaching online courses for professionals, Patrick is a faculty member teaching interactive design at the University of Missouri – St. Louis. User interface and user experience design are topics Patrick can’t stop talking about — he’s completing his master’s degree in Human Computer Interaction from DePaul University.

With the tools and frameworks that you mention in the Mobile Web book, do you see a shift in web design where it’s become easier for designers to program a site with little or no support from a programmer? Or, do you see collaboration becoming more important?

Patrick: Actually, it is only getting harder for anyone to build sites. The tools and frameworks that are now so popular are a result of things getting more complicated. In particular, responsive web design has made the construction of websites far more complicated from a technical perspective. This has created an opportunity for tools to try and reduce this pain. Collaboration between the technical and creative teams is only getting more and more important. In many organizations, they are rapidly moving towards a blended team model, where designers and developers work more closely throughout the entire project.

I found the “320 and Up” framework really interesting. (Design starts with a mobile version and then expands up to work for desktop browsers.) Do you see this becoming the most common approach in the future with mobile web driving the design?

Patrick: Yes, mobile first web design and development is the way of the future. As smartphones and tablets continue to rise over the classic desktop computer — we will see a clear shift to this mindset. I expect that 5 years from now, we will be designing mobile websites and the desktop version will be the afterthought. A complete switch of the way we used to approach things. We are in the midst of the transition.

What do you like best about designing for mobile and the web?

Patrick: I love that it is so darn hard. With such a small space, you are forced to carefully consider each and every element. You have to find the true focus and purpose of your site and cut all the extra stuff out. After doing this, the space you have on a typical desktop website feels lavish and often wasted on countless elements that serve no purpose.

What web design trends are you tired of seeing?

Patrick: Right now, flat design (simplfied design with no depth) is extremely popular, and frankly, it gets kind of old. I have to admit it can be a really beautiful solution. But, I am certain that countless designers mindlessly use the approach without considering if it fits the client. I think the trend is just too neutral and will fall out of use as designers look to make their designs stand out.

What advice do you have to infuse more creative elements into the confines of the small mobile space?

Patrick: As the industry develops better tools and techniques, I believe we will see the mobile web find a much richer visual style. Often, people consider the mobile web extremely limiting and feel that there is no room to set one's self apart. I like to point them to the world of business card design. Designers long ago figured out how to do astonishing things in this niche. The space is insanely restrictive, and yet countless designers have figured out ways to creatively use the space to make unique designs that stand out. This is what will happen on the mobile web, as we get more comfortable with the medium.

The Web Designer’s Idea Book Volumes 1 and 2 focused primarily on design trends and styles for inspiration. Volume 3 and the Mobile Web Designer’s Idea Book have more focus on technology, site framework and programming. Have you recently become more interested in the technology / programming side of web design?

Patrick: Actually, I first approached the web from a technical perspective. Later on, I realized I wanted to understand the design side of things. So, for me, including some technical perspectives feels rather natural. In fact, if you look back to my other books you will pick up on this at times. The difference is that right now, technology is playing a huge role in changes in the industry. As such, they have been more of a focus in my books. I am actually writing my next book now and it doesn't include anything nearly as technically-oriented as the last two books. And even though I mention technology, these books are anything but technical.

We look forward to hearing more about latest trends from this inspiring web design guru. Learn even more at