Increased web page size: un-necessary bloat or a necessary consequence

Mobile users pay the price for increased web page size

Over the past few years web pages have started to increase in size at quite an alarming rate. You may not have noticed this if you mainly access the web using a desktop of laptop.

However, if you commonly use a mobile device you may have been wondering why accessing the web can be slow and your phone just swallows up data like there's no tomorrow. Well, the answer probably lies in the size of the web pages you're downloading. According to HTTP Archive Report, the average web page weight now has just topped 2Mb. If that's not huge, tell me what is.

We've got the technology

The web has come a long way in a very short time. Many sites are now using HTML5 which has created an environment in which to create a dynamic experience for the end user. However all of this has come at a price. The use of JavaScript has burgeoned. On average JavaScript can conservatively contribute 15% to the size of a web page. Another element is the overuse of custom fonts. Custom fonts have to be downloaded from a server in order to be used on the web page. Fonts can really liven up a page and create the site's individual identity, but these need to be judiciously used. However, the real show-stopper is the growth in the use of big images. The use of images aids the aesthetics of a page. However, when they contribute on average to just over 60% of the weight of the page (1.3Mb), it might be time to start drawing in the reins.

The end user experience

The end user wants a good experience, where information is delivered in a form they can understand and that is visually attractive. Further, end users want a dynamic and interactive experience. The real question that needs to be asked by both website owners and designers is when is enough enough. Just because you can do it, does that necessarily mean you should.

Perceived requirements of the website owner

Website owners really have a vested interest in their website - hardly surprising if you think about it. They want to ensure they sufficiently engage with their online visitor so that they do whatever they are supposed to do. Often, however, the more functionality added to the page does not necessarily mean more customers.

When these three elements are put together an explosive mix can be created for the mobile user. Regardless of the size of the device on which the site is viewed the whole site and all it's assets are downloaded. Thus, an image that spreads right across your browser on your desktop will generally be the same image that will be downloaded on a mobile phone.

It's really strange that in this world where we're designing on the basis of 'mobile first' (designing first for the mobile device and then for lap and desktop), we are creating very big web pages with lots of images, JavaScript and other files. Have we really understood what 'mobile first' really means? Are we really thinking about the experience of the mobile user first? These are just rhetorical questions.

It's a hard one, but when developing a website we need to decide where on the continuum between 'Performance' and 'User experience' we are going to pitch our site. Or, perhaps we're missing the point, perhaps Performance is the ultimate in the User exerience.

Got you thinking?… Ready to make a start?