Is responsive design really the future of web development?

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Web Design

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.

Benefits:

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.

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  • Phil

    I disagree that responsive sites cost more. Many agencies are riding the buzz if this new technology and using it as an excuse to charge more. “Argh you want responsive, that’ll be another 10%”. A good agency will understand that responsive web design is web design! Costs should be reflective of how much time something takes not just because its new!

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  • http://www.antonkoekemoer.com/ Anton Koekemoer

    It’s not the future. It’s now.

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  • panique

    Totally agree! First I also thought responsive would be much more effort & costs, so i did not offer mobile versions to clients – and lots a lot of money, fun and reputation. But when you know how those things run you can give & charge your clients hassle-free futureproof mobile/tablet versions for 10% more of your time. It’s a win-win.

  • Moe

    thats not a good agency to charge more just because of a new technology. But its fact that a responsive-design-page is more work to do so its natural to get more money for such a page than a “standart” website.

  • Adriaan Grove

    In my opinion based on practical experience responsive website design is a bit more work including more testing time required.

  • http://twitter.com/JohnGinsberg John Ginsberg

    Here’s an interesting approach – http://daverupert.com/2013/04/responsive-deliverables/

  • willsea

    Great article but the point about duplicate content is false if you tell google webmaster that you have two sites on two different subdomains : http://www.X.com & m.X.com

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  • Shaune

    Responsive design is not the future of web application development development but it is the PRESENT.

    Responsive application generate interest in users and it your design and app is nto responsive, you must loose customers, hence growth, revenue/sales..

    I find something related in this article hence would like to share. Here it goes http://ezinearticles.com/?Secure-Web-Applications-Using-the-Grails-Framework&id=7565632

  • Danielle

    I disagree that it costs more as well. We have been including responsive website design in our websites for years now and our costs are lower then other web companies in our area. It takes more work to create a separate mobile site then it does to just design it to be responsive.

  • http://www.longislandmarketingcompany.com/ Long Island Marketing Company

    Responsive web design does not have to be expensive. We customize wordpress themes most of which are already responsive. (Some better then others) Mobile advertising platforms will continue to evolve as web development changes.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/justinmegahan Justin Megahan

    I don’t think it costs more just because it’s new.

    The fluid grid system of a responsively designed site requires a inheritly different HTML structure, allowing it to collapse as the browser narrows (or expand, if building Mobile First). That requires starting at the foundation. So, RWD is going to take more time developing markup.

    Also, while it is a single-front end, you’re creating multiple styling options for how the content will be displayed at different breakpoints. So developing the intricate styling takes more time.

    It’s complex, and so it takes more time. Not just to develop, but to maintain.

    The techniques are innovative, and extremely useful, but I think the article is correct in pointing out these challenges. I lean towards making use of responsive content, but coupling it with device recognition and server-side solutions.

    I actually did a whole series of posts discussing why RWD by itself isn’t enough, and how to fix it with the approach that we’re using at Moovweb. http://blog.moovweb.com/2013/03/why-responsive-web-design-isnt-enough-and-how-to-fix-it-part-2/

  • http://www.facebook.com/justinmegahan Justin Megahan

    Yeah, Google recommends just using rel=”canonical” for duplicated mobile content. So you won’t have any SEO issues. Now keeping those independent sites in sync with each other is where the problem lies.

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  • http://whitneybernard.tblog.com/post/1970300364 Yuli Buckley

    Now a days, Mobile applications are on demand more even many devices, techniques and browsers that have to work with our site grows.Responsive web design represents a essential shift in how we build websites for the decade to come.

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  • http://www.rockcheetah.com/blog/ RobertKCole

    Responsive design is not more expensive – case in point: WordPress.com has just released a responsive template for hotels. It’s also probably better than at least 60% of the hotel websites out there – especially on a mobile device.

    The cost? It’s Free.

    Longer to develop? Certainly not if one is using a solid responsive framework or theme as the backbone. Building it totally custom from scratch? I find it hard to fathom that 95% of organizations require a design that could not be developed on a responsive grid.

    Regardless, everyone needs to put some serious thought into their site design & architecture. Responsive design helps focus the thinking and avoids the tendency of many groups to toss everything up and work out the glitches on other platforms later – both browser incompatibilities & form factors. Responsive design seems to help kill both birds with one stone.

    From an SEO perspective, the unified URL structure offered by a responsive site is also very beneficial – why divide up traffic if it is not necessary?

    I totally agree – it is not the future, it is the present.

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  • http://twitter.com/sa_lil Salil

    A question to all: Does responsive design effectively mean death to separate web and mobile content plans? Would you still have a separate mobile content strategy (apps not incl.)? Why?

  • http://twitter.com/viaregis Justin Regis

    This. I have been looking at responsive design themes in WordPress and find them to be fantastic.

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  • Aparajayah Technologies

    its the latest technology using now. For responsive technology design contact http://www.aparajayah.com/web_design

  • http://www.valuecoders.com/ ValueCoders

    Obviously Yes! Greg, Responsive design is future of web development, even many of business owner respectively moving to this technology because it is the best way to cover mobile users as well increase the User experience of our website.

    -Mike

  • http://www.pinkzebradesigns.com.au/ Troy Wilson

    Responsive website are in great trend now and hope it would help in future also and doesnot cost much.

  • http://technosoftwares.com/ Charan Singh

    The concept of responsive web design is to make sites that fit several display dimensions. For the developer that indicates they only have to work on one edition of the website instead of designing one for computer systems and another for mobile.

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