Responsive Design – the Good, the Bad, and the Absolutely Spectacular

If you havent heard of Responsive Design yet, you probably will soon. Responsive Design is a way of building websites that can be viewed on multiple devices of varying screen sizes. The number of people surfing the web on mobile devices has skyrocketed over the past couple years Im not exaggerating. comScore recently predicted that the number of mobile Internet users would surpass desktop Internet users by 2014 and points out that there was a 47% increase in smartphone users between March 2011 and March 2012 [source: TechCrunch] On top of that, there are hundreds of different types of smartphones out there all able to surf the web and a LOT of different screen sizes.

So what IS a responsive site, exactly?

A responsive site is one that can adapt to various screen sizes, and isnt dependent on the type of device youre using. From very large screens to teeny tiny ones, the content on a responsive site reorganizes itself based on the size of the screen youre viewing it on. Weve built a number of responsive sites, here are two examples.

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These are two examples demonstrating how the sites would look on a small phone held in portrait mode, an iPad held in portrait mode, and a full sized computer screen. The content always stays the same, but its organized in such a way that the content that the user would find most important goes to the top and the least important to the bottom (this is especially important on phones since the user may have to scroll pretty far to get to the bottom of a longer page).

Do I really need to think about mobile devices?

This is an important question to ask yourself. Not everyone needs a responsive site or a mobile site. So how do you know if you do? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I have a lot of users viewing the site on mobile devices? Hint: Check your analytics.
  • Are users likely to access my content when theyre on the go? or on the couch?
  • Would I like my mobile users to be able to quickly perform a specific function?
  • Is my content likely to be shared on social networks?

This last is interesting because social networking on mobile devices is no small margin of users. If your content is likely to be shared, then its extremely likely to be discovered by mobile device users! When they tap that link to your super-interesting article on the benefit of eating bananas before 7am, will they actually be able to read it on their phone?

If you have a lot of users visiting on mobile devices already, and if your content would be useful to them while theyre using their mobile device, then you should definitely consider some sort of mobile or responsive version of your site.

Whats the difference between a responsive site and a mobile site?

Sounds like the same thing, right? Not so much.

Responsive Sites

  • The content stays pretty much the same, but is reorganized based on device screen size.
  • Great for news sites where users are likely to browse a lot of the content.
  • Great for sites with a lot of content where users are likely to use their mobile device.
  • Allows greater flexibility when you have a number of different device types visiting your site.
  • Content needs to be very well-organized. This is sound advice for any website, but absolutely essential for a responsive site!

Mobile Sites

  • The content can be specialized based on device type, which means that different content can be served up based on which device is accessing the site.
  • Great for sites where users will want to perform specific actions when visiting on a mobile device. For example, users on mobile devices visiting a restaurant’s sites are usually looking for locations and menus; users visiting American Airlines website will either want to look up flights or check in. No need to show all of the content on the main website because the users goals are different on each.
  • Can be limiting in terms of different device types, usually the device type is detected and the mobile version is output as a result. This can be tricky since there are so many device types out there.

Now that you know the benefits and reasons for paying attention to mobile users, think about your sites content, functions, goals, and users and you should be able to tell whether a responsive or mobile site would be a good investment for your business.



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