When is comes to designing experiences such as websites or apps, not all companies have gotten a handle on mobile-first technology. The consumer world, however, has gone mobile and Google is moving to a mobile-first indexing system for its search engine. Experiences that aren’t mobile friendly don’t truly have the customer’s needs at heart.
APIs, or application programming interfaces, are little chunks of code that do individual tasks and plug into all manner of websites and apps. Building from the API up is a method that all companies should investigate. In most cases, it costs relatively the same in the short term, nearly always costs less in the long term, and it enables an agile approach to tech development.
- Websites have gone from being designed for desktops to mobiles, often clumsily and with reduced usability.
- While mobile-first design was a step in the right direction for web and apps, businesses should be aiming for more.
- An API-first approach will save money, increase agility and create new revenue streams for companies.
From web to mobile-first
First advocated by famed product designer Luke Wroblewski, mobile-first theory argued that designers and developers should follow a different approach. They should first design the mobile version of a site and then, by ‘progressive enhancement’, add functionality to the desktop version.
This would mean, Wroblewski argued, that businesses didn’t miss out on the growing mobile trend. They would be forced to focus and refine their design, eliminating extraneous or irrelevant parts, and would have access to some of the (then) mobile-only technologies such as GPS².
The next step in design evolution: API-first
Given that some websites are still not mobile-first or even mobile-friendly, it may seem strange to be advocating an entirely new design methodology. But an API-first approach has too many potential benefits for business to ignore.
Essentially, an API-first approach breaks down apps and websites into their coded parts: the APIs, which serve as the links between a user interface and its backend functionality. They are self-contained independent services that can be used repeatedly in any number of ways.
For instance, imagine a bank that wants to provide its customers with a way to send money to family overseas. To do that, they want a mobile or desktop app that’s easy to use and allows the customer to select the family member, input the dollar amount and ‘send’ with the press of a button.
The APIs that make this work are plentiful. One would be the address-book API, linking the user to the people they transact with. Another could be an exchange-rate API to convert one currency to another. An API could be needed to authenticate the customer, say by checking their PIN number matches the account. Then finally, one more API could move the actual money.
Six months later, the bank wants to develop a new experience. This time, they want to create an app for travellers to take money out of an ATM in another country. Instead of having to start from scratch, the bank can use (or ‘mashup’, as we would say) two of the APIs from the first project: the API to convert foreign currency and the one to authenticate the user. Already they’ve reduced their workload. This is why an API-first approach is so worthwhile.
Why an API-first approach should be used to create experiences
There are three main reasons why an API-first approach should be considered by business. Firstly, the cost. Developing a range of APIs for one project means not having to create them again for another or, if the project/app changes, having to throw out the entire code and start again.
In an age where consumers are demanding personalised and sophisticated experiences with the brands they interact with, companies can’t afford to fall down with badly designed websites, apps or other customer experiences.
For longevity’s sake though, business should be thinking about building their next project as API-first, mobile-second. This will enable the best of both worlds. The usability demanded by consumers who browse via mobile, with the competitive advantage of agility, revenue and cost-savings.
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