A Couple of Best Practices for Tablet-Friendly Design

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The following is a guest post by Ben Terrill. Ben is co-author of the e-book Tablet Web Design Best Practices and is the VP of Customer Success at Mobify, where he works on big client sites like British Telecom, Starbucks and Expedia.

The tablet revolution is upon us. New data from Adobe shows that global websites now get more traffic from tablets than smartphones. And yet, a standard desktop site doesn’t work very well on a tablet. The typical desktop 12-pixel font is too small, as are buttons. Images aren’t sharp and, worst of all, some features simply don’t work.

The good news is you don’t have to completely revamp your website. A working desktop site is a great place to start building an effective tablet site. In this article, I’ll share six techniques from Mobify’s latest ebook Tablet Web Design Best Practices for significantly improving desktop websites on tablets.

Go 100% Touch Friendly

One of the best ways to make your desktop website sing on a tablet is to make it touch friendly. If website elements look as though they can be swiped, tapped or pinched, then you’ll need to build in that functionality to make your website tablet ready.

Consider adding elements like carousels and accordions, drawers and panels. Mobify has a variety of open source JavaScript modules you can use for this purpose.

Editor’s note: We recently covered the JavaScript for touch-friendly sliders. I also think Royal Slider is a nice slider that is touch-friendly and also responsive.

Bump Up Default Font Size and Line Height

Don’t make users double tap or pinch your content. Instead, increase the font size to at least 16px. You can also use a line height of 1.5 to allow for breathing room between text on content-rich pages, as Mashable does in the example below. Remember, text must always be legible, no matter how a user holds their tablet.

Be Finger Friendly

Our fingers are much clumsier than a cursor, so bumping up the spacing between different touch targets will improve user accuracy. And, make those touch targets big! Our fingertips typically require upwards of 44px to comfortably fit within a touch target so design for that.

Make each touch target at least 44px by 44px and use padding rather than margin. Padding increases the actual tappable area, whereas margin simply increases the whitespace around the element.

Enable Contextual Keyboards

The great thing about software keyboards is that they’re dynamic. That is, you can change their layout to suit context. For instance, if your input field requires an email address, the keyboard should feature the ‘@’ symbol, underscores and hyphens. If the user is asked to input a phone number, provide a numeric keypad. Try using the following input types on form fields:

  • Standard keyboard | <input type="text" />
  • URL parameters | <input type="url" />
  • Email-specific keyboard | <input type="email" />
  • Numeric keyboard | <input type="text" pattern="[0-9]*" />
Example of a better numeric keyboard (iOS on left, Android on right) (via)

Editor’s note: I also detailed data about HTML5 input attributes/types/elements. It’s getting a smidge old, but still useful.

Font-Based Icons for the Win

Resolutions and pixel densities on tablet screens are far greater than on desktop and laptop screens. As a result, graphics can look pixelated if they’re not designed with high resolution screens in mind. For this reason, font-based icons are a good choice because they scale well on super high­ resolution displays; they’re easy to colour and shade using CSS; and they only require one HTTP request to download. Plus, you don’t have to deal with a sprite sheet.

Create your own icon font sets, or use existing sets like Font Awesome, glyphish, iconsweets, symbolset, or icnfnt.

Editor’s note: I once did a massive roundup of icon fonts (which I still have to add to). I’m a fan of using these HTML techniques for adding them to the page, which keep them accessible. I’m also a fan of IcoMoon for the creating trimmed down, customized icon font sets.

Performance is Design

Modern web design techniques, like responsive design, can cripple website performance. Since 57% of users are likely to leave your website if it takes 3 seconds to load, performance considerations are critical. Some tips for improving mobile website performance include compressing images and concatenating CSS and JavaScript to reduce the number of HTTP requests and overall page size. With these fixes, you’ll notice significantly speedier page load time and happier, higher converting users. Use tools like Uglify, Sass, Compass and Mobify.js to automate performance improvements.

Editor’s note: I cover some of these performance techniques and some others in #114: Let’s Do Simple Stuff to Make Our Websites Faster

Go Forth!

With these tablet transformation techniques in your toolbox, there’s no reason to get stressed out about not having a totally tablet-optimized website. For more ways to make your desktop site tablet friendly, read Mobify’s free ebook, Tablet Web Design Best Practices.