Jan 24, 2012

Responsive Design - Is it a Solution?

What is Responsive Design

Responsive design, according to Smashing Magazine, is the approach that suggests that design and development should respond to the user’s behavior and environment based on screen size, platform and orientation.”  Put forward by Ethan Marcotte, responsive web design has got me very excited for the future and where we’re heading in design and web strategy. A website that knows if a user is on a desktop, smartphone or tablet and responds accordingly is an important tool, and in 2012 it will differentiate you from the competition. (To see it in action, check out responsive design examples here and here)

If you don’t want to look at the examples (what are ya, crazy?), picture a website where the content (the images, text, etc) shifts to prevent that unnecessary scrolling, pinching and squinting that can come along with other mobile websites. Content can also be hidden so only basic information is revealed while remaining content that isn’t used as often can remain accessible by a button or drop-down menu. Or certain content can be removed all together in the name of faster loading times, less scrolling, etc.

Overall, responsive design is an important idea because it seems to address the demand for a website that can be used on a growing number of devices without a new design and development for each and every device.

But is responsive design always the best solution?

Problem Solved...and New Problems Created

By having a responsive design that can allow your website to be viewed on multiple screen and device types, the assumption is that the content you are delivering is appropriate for all the users in front of those devices– but this isn’t always the case.  

It’s also increasingly difficult to determine the intent of the user based on the device they are using. Mobile users aren’t always in a shopping aisle or on public transport - how many of us use our phones while we’re on the couch watching TV?

Re-think Content

Responsive design can be a fantastic approach towards building and designing websites and meeting the evolving needs of customers. But consider the content you are sharing on these devices. Forget about the “mobile user” and instead focus on the content - What part of your business offering is most valuable to your customers? What are your business goals? Which content reflects these goals? Prioritise this information in a hierarchy of content and think about what needs to be included and featured.  

And if you do know your customers well enough to know what content would suit them on their various screen sizes and resolutions, then think about building a separate mobile site and even creating separate content (though this can also require responsive design – after all, not all mobile screens are the same size).

Collaboration in Design

As you probably already figured out, the details of a responsive web design should be considered on a case-by-case basis. And as excited as I am about these advancements in the web, I’m also aware that it’s no perfect solution. And I think responsive design highlights the importance of involving multiple areas of your business, not just the design team, in your web strategy. While this may cause some clashes between design and marketing, you will also end up with an improved experience for customers interacting with your website – no matter how they choose to view it.

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