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Alexis Ternoy
Alexis Ternoy 17 July 2015
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Most Web Design Tools Are Still Desktop-Centric, That May Be Outdated Thinking

Most web design tools still start web design with the desktop view, as the first target. But there are a few design tools that target the mobile device first. Here's a review.

Most web design tools still start web design with the desktop view, as the first target. But there are a few design tools that target the mobile device first. Here’s a review.



You may know about these two strategies to make a website responsive:

Graceful Degradation”, builds web sites with functionality so that it provides a certain level of user experience, in more modern browsers, and will also degrade gracefully to a lower level of user in experience for older browsers.

That’s also how some tools treat web visitors when designing a site. Assume the user is using a desktop computer, then serve a simpler page, or alternative page, if they are a mobile user.

Progressive Enhancement” is similar, but it does things the other way round. It starts with a basic level of user experience objects that all browsers will be able to provide when rendering the web site. But will also use more advanced functionality, automatically, to browsers that can use it.

In the case of responsive websites, the site assumes a desktop user. Then serves expanded pages if the user is using a mobile device. But this is done before any HTML is served to the browser.

Basically, graceful degradation starts from complexity and scales down after testing the browser (known as integrating the browser). Progressive enhancement starts very basic, and builds as needed.

Degrading gracefully means going back if needed, whereas enhancing progressively means building up.

As more searches this year are being done on mobile devices, and presumably more sites will be visited via a mobile device, should web design tools change?

I started my search for new web tools looking at WordPress themes (because I use it myself) then moving to programs that make websites (static and blogs). I wanted to see which tools focuses on mobile first.

As I looked, I talked to a number of web designers, they told me that the problem with mobile first, is that most clients still want to see a big, beautiful desktop version of the site. That the smartphone version is not as compelling.

With that caveat, let’s begin.

For WordPress, I looked at a number of theme builders. These allow someone to, “skin” or decorate a WordPress site with theme elements. While there are a huge number of WordPress themes, my goal was to look at web tools that allowed someone to build their own site, not just a blog (like me).

The theme builders I tried were Visual Composer, Themify and Motopress. While I loved Themify, and Motopress, all three focus on the page. That means they are not desktop or mobile centric. However, a lot of features for any of these can be turned OFF for mobile. That to me suggested a desktop feel.

Themify Builder comes free from themify.me if you buy any of their themes.

I also tried some themes. The X-Theme (from theme.co) is very popular right now. This theme bundles Visual Composer with it. I must say that X is very desktop oriented – any I really did not like using it. The Temify themes are much easier to use for mobile development.

These are all the theming packages I tried. These are for WordPress only. That is, you can’t build a site with them, without WordPress.


A few of my favourite (too much to list them all) Avada, Divi, Flatsome (a theme only), Headway – a very cool page builder, Jade – lots of nice themes, RT-Theme18, Themify, UDesign. In the end, I liked Themify, Motopress and Headway the best.

One interesting tools was Artisteer. This tool will make websites themes for WordPress, Drupal and Joomla. But again it’s desktop centric.

With the builders and themes done, I started to look at traditional tools for building static websites.


For static builders I tried:

Most of these open with a desktop default and allowed a mobile site version to be made. The two notable exceptions were: Sparkle and Xojo

Sparkle allows a user to choose which layout they want to make a page for. Allowing simultaneous desktop, tablet and smartphone layouts. It also allowed graphics to be scaled for each device as they are imported. That is, the user sees the best size for smartphones even when placing the graphics on a desktop page. That feature was great and shows forward thinking.

Xojo is a real programing language that makes web apps. Because of that, the user can design for mobile. This is that only development tools that also makes iOS and Android apps. This means a developer can make a website AND an app with the same code base.

Xojo may be beyond the coding level of many web designers, but with lots of examples, I think may designers could pick this up. The code is not Java or C++, but an easy to learn language called BASIC. The code is simple to learn.

So Sparkle and Xojo win for best web development languages I review for mobile first. Any web designer can learn Sparkle quickly. The only disadvantage is that it’s so new, it lacks full e-commerce features – like PayPal integration. But this may come faster than other tools and theme builders change focus to mobile first.

For WordPress, Headway allows you to build the whole theme. Which is more work, but you can start from a clean, mobile first site. And Themify’s Builder is great, but again, WordPress is so desktop focused, that I did not feel any tool really let’s you start from a mobile centric view.

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