How responsive web design can improve your online presence
The web seems to be the perfect medium for the proliferation of buzzwords. First it was web 2.0, now it’s responsive web design. Fortunately for you (and me), responsive web design actually has a specific meaning. Put simply, it’s designing web pages that dynamically take the user’s screen size into account. A single design that self-adapts, from the smallest smartphone screen to the standard laptop or desktop display.
Why do web designs need to be responsive?
Some would argue that they don’t. And that there’s nothing wrong with developing a few versions of your website to cover not only the size of the screen used for viewing, but also the needs of the user in terms of the device she is using. And to a point, they’re right.
Many businesses deliberately produce abridged versions of their sites with just the key information in place for mobile users. The assumption being that browsing on the move is fundamentally different to browsing at home, on a computer. But that’s all it is: an assumption. In fact, more and more smartphone users are taking advantage of the convenience their device offers while they’re at home. Rather than switching on a computer, they’re connecting to their own home broadband, and browsing the web just like ‘regular’ users.
So where does that leave web designers?
One web, so many devices
The question seems to boil down to one of cost and effect. Sure, you could design and host multiple versions of your site to cater to the different devices visitors will be using, but that generally means making assumptions about the context of the site visit. In other words, it’s easy to assume that someone viewing your site from their smartphone is only interested in finding your email address or phone number. But we’ve already established that this isn’t the case.
Interactive design for an interactive medium
Just as we’ve discovered that people do in fact read text that requires scrolling to see (yet there are naysayers who vehemently deny this—everything must appear ‘above the fold’), I think we need to accept that people want to use their portable devices to view your website. Not just your contact details—your whole site.
Creating a responsive web layout is not only an efficient solution, but a fitting one. The web is defined by its interactivity, so why not make your layout adaptive? According to Dieter Rams (a living design deity) good design is both efficient and environmentally-friendly. That means that if you take your design seriously, responsive design is the only way to go.
A single site for all contexts
For those who argue that certain pieces of information are not applicable to mobile devices, a rethink is needed. Instead of making assumptions and omitting content, reconsider your information structure to make the most intuitive experience for all your users. A well-designed content structure is more eco-friendly by default because it reduces unnecessary page loads.
Cut out the flab with Occam’s razor
They say the simplest solution is the best solution, and when it comes to web design, this is pretty much gospel. If your site isn’t working for mobile users, it’s not working. There’s no reason why what your business has to say can’t be clearly and effectively communicated regardless of the user’s device.
Get it right and you’ll benefit from lower maintenance costs, less server space used, a more coherent user experience and a web presence that’s much easier to keep up to date.