While most hail it the future of web development, the concept has received its fair amount of skepticism. Regardless of your stand point on the subject, responsive web design is making tidal waves in the web development world. But before you jump into the sea of fluid grids and media queries, or pay someone to do it for you, let’s help you get a decent understanding of the concept first.
What is responsive web design and what is it about?
Responsive web design is a front-end development approach aimed at crafting device agnostic sites. What this means is that it provides easy reading and navigation with a minimum of resizing, panning, and scrolling, across a wide range of devices. Basically it eliminates the need for separate sites for different devices, an approach generally accepted in years before.
It’s about automatically delivering the content your audience wants, on the device they have, regardless of screen size. It’s about moving with the times and accommodating the industry as it evolves and moves forward.
Do I need a responsive site?
Consumer behavior is changing. For the first time PC sales are predicted to be lower than the year before and tablets and smartphones are becoming extremely popular for business and pleasure alike. These devices have different screen sizes which is a nightmare for web developers and designers. What this means is that all of a sudden people are viewing your content on thousands of oddly shaped and different sized screens. Responsive web design is the web development industry’s answer to these problems.
This is all great to know and makes for great conversation with your tech buddies, but how do you know if you need to take the plunge? The best way to answer this is to do some research. Use the Google Analytics Mobile Overview report feature on your site to identify the percentage of your audience that use mobile devices. If mobile users are more than 5% of your total audience you should seriously consider catering for them.
One thing to remember, the industry is sprinting away from desktops and conventional screen sizes. Rather acknowledge and accommodate the shift as it is happening, instead of playing catch up later on and missing out on exposure and conversions along the way.
The challenges faced:
Responsive web design is in its infancy and just like you did, it is experiencing some teething problems before it reaches maturity.
- Advertising is an issue. Ads will have to shift with the sites, something that will wreak havoc with advertisers who want guaranteed placements on sites.
- Information architecture can be an issue. It needs to be carefully considered and should be hierarchically structured.
- Loading times. This can be an issue on mobile devices if not taken into consideration beforehand. This is really due bad planning from the developer’s side, but a challenge none the less.
- Educating the market. Explaining the benefits of responsive web design and justifying the added costs will prove difficult at first.
- Inconsistent support across devises.
The benefits are pretty obvious, one site for all platforms and devices. This is great for maintenance as one update affects all of your platforms. It also has positive SEO implications for usability, non-duplicate content (you don’t have the same content on your main site and on your mobile site) and cross-platform link building (a link to your standard site is a link to your mobile site).
When should you use it?
- If you can afford it. Responsive web design is cutting edge at the moment and will most likely be more expensive than conventional web formats. It also takes longer to develop.
- When your audience uses tablets or smartphones on a regular basis (take note publishers) to view your content.
- If you wish to have a consistent digital brand.
- If you want to stay at the forefront of what is digitally possible.
While the benefits of responsive web design are clear for all to see, there are cases where the traditional blend of separate mobile and desktop site is the better option. To ensure that you get what is best for your brand, commission the services of a web developer or agency that has your best interests at heart, rather than an eye on your wallet.