Trying to read a website on a phone is like a game of roulette, sometimes you win, most of the time you lose. More often than not I find myself getting so frustrated that I give up all together and look for a better alternative. I know I am not the only one whose blood pressure goes up when the visit a site and see text so small it looks like abstract art. It was last year that I started seeing something called Responsive Web Design (RDW) on my mobile devices.
When it came to RDW I was smitten right away. This was it! RDW was going to make my mobile computing experience a joy! And I have yet to be disappointed! You probably have seen RDW at work and have not known it, so let me explain it and give a few examples.
A quick history lesson
At its heart RDW is more than a way to code a website, it is a philosophy of content distribution with the reader at its center. When we look over history it was innovations that made communication easier that moved society forward; Gutenberg’s press, Bell’s telephone, and now we have the Internet. The Internet at its inception was a very simple tool what it has become no one anticipated.
At first the Internet was 100% consumed on desktop computers, and then back in 2007 someone named Steve Jobs stepped up onto a stage and pulled out an iPhone and the Internet was forever changed. The momentum of this device spawned the iPad and soon the market became saturated with tablet devices. As great as these handheld marvels are they all suffered from one thing, the web was not designed to be viewed on such a small screen.
Enter the mobile specific website
These small screens skewed the way we viewed websites making us long for alternatives. At the beginning many companies opted to create mobile versions of their websites. While this sounded like a simple and feasible solution it was flawed for a couple of reasons.
Mobile website’s fractured the amount of work needed to be done by a businesses web team, this increased workload resulted in simplified content that often fell short of meeting the needs of some customers. This inherently was a bad setup for the consumer of the content, because they could
To resolve this shortcoming something needed to be created that would allow you to make one website that would adapt to whatever device it was being viewed on. This process would simplify the amount of upfront investment by businesses, but would require a rethink in terms of how content would be presented. Businesses win by having a simpler mandate for their web initiatives when the use RWD, and the customer wins by having the same content no matter what device they choose to visit you site with.
What is responsive design?
So now that we have established the context for RDW, what exactly is it? Well for starters, this article you are reading is made with it. If you are on a computer try opening this website on your smartphone, or visa-versa.
Notice how the website accommodates the type of screen you are using. The content adjusts so as to be easily readable, thus enhancing the reading experience. This experience works across the whole website, not just parts of it.
If you are reading this on a desktop and would like to see it in action, simply adjust the size of the browser. You will see the layout adapts to the new width of the browser making the website more readable and easier to navigate.
Why is RWD a big deal?
The reason RWD is so exciting becomes apparent when you look at the sales of tablets and smart phones as opposed to desktop computers. Smartphones sales passed PC in 2011.
And think that article is from 2011! The trend will only increase going forward as the market becomes more saturated with mobile devices.
So, why responsive design?
The simplest reason to implement RWD is that is allows you to deliver the best user experience on a greater number of devices. There was a day when having both a standard website and a mobile site was a great solution, but in hindsight that solution required more maintenance and was a resource drain. RDW is the answer we have been waiting for. There are simply too many devices with different size screens and web browsers to make a two dimensional mobile and conventional solution effective for the customer or the budget.
It was naive to think that the Internet was the actualization of the desktop computer. Instead it was the desktop that gave birth to the internet and now we are beginning to see the possibilities that were created by the Internet. It logically makes sense that adaptation of RDW is the best form of innovation for business at this point, because it will be those business’ that rush to accommodate the needs of their customers that will take the Internet to the next level in regards to how we interact with it at home and at work. This first mover advantage is not only advantageous today but sets you up for the future as well, because those business’ who ride this wave first will better placed to anticipate the needs and innovations the future is bound to hold.
“But I do think fragmenting our content across different 'device-optimized' experiences is a losing proposition, or at least an unsustainable one. As the past few years have shown us, we simply can’t compete with the pace of technology. Are we really going to create a custom experience for every new browser or device that appears? And if not, what’s the alternative?” –Ethan Marcotte, Responsive Web Design
How to decide if RDW is right for you
With so many changes in the tech industry happening every day it can be hard to stay on top of it all. To help you understand if RWD would be beneficial for you consider these points:
- Examine your web analytics. Are you receiving significant mobile traffic? What is their time on site duration? If your time on site is low, then you may be loosing business by not having a site with RWD.
- Would you want to use your site from a tablet or smartphone? Ask your friends and family for their input. Is it easy to read? Can you find what you are looking for easily?
- Are you considering a redesign? RWD is worth the extra time and investment.
- Do you have a mobile strategy in place? Do you have content on your site that is optimized for people coming from a mobile device?
- How does your site look on other popular tablets smart phones? Just because it looks good on one is no guarantee that it works for others. Head to the mall and try out some other devices.
The Internet has changed how we do everything. RWD is not a reinvention of the Internet but a humanization of it. As the Internet has evolved it has become better suited to the needs of humans and how they respond and interact with content. It only makes sense then to make content as easy to find and digest as possible, unless of course you are a government agency. Make your website with RWD principles and you will be well placed to show your customers all you have to offer, and make their lives a little less stressful who can argue with that?