In recent years, one of the biggest and most timely movements in web development has been the push towards responsive web design (a.k.a. RWD). And with good reason. For those who are unfamiliar with this concept, it allows your website to be viewed on an almost infinite number of devices and screen sizes, all while allowing you to control the message, design, and user experience that you want to deliver to your customers. For many, this might not seem like an important consideration, but when you dig deeper into how customers view your website, you’ll quickly realize the device fragmentation and wide range of screen sizes that your content can be viewed on.
Let’s quickly go back in time a few years (5-10), before smartphones and tablets were the norm. When designing websites, we only had to account for a handful of common desktop screen sizes to make sure they looked and worked correctly. Those days are long gone. With brand new phones and tablets being released almost daily, planning and designing for a handful of screen sizes and expecting everything to work is no longer acceptable. This is a hard lesson that some businesses are paying the price for currently. If your website is a traditional, non-responsive type, a user might not be able quickly get the info they need from your website, or worse, the site doesn’t display correctly on that particular device. If this is the case, what will prevent the customer from using your competitor’s website instead? Especially if your competition has optimized their site for mobile usage. The moment a user hits your website, the clock starts ticking. If you can’t help them quickly enough, they will look elsewhere for answers.
Today, web users move seamlessly from device to device (desktop at work, phone on commute home, tablet or laptop at home), so they expect usable, optimized delivery of the content across all of these devices. The challenge lies in the fact that all of these devices have varying screen resolutions and can all be used in different situations that affect how the information is consumed (for example, a customer using his iPhone on a crowded, noisy train). This is where the beauty of responsive web design comes into play because you can tailor your website to deliver content that is targeted to both the device being used as well as the viewing situation.
We’ve all found ourselves in a situation where we pull out our mobile device to quickly verify a business’s address or get their phone number. A common use of RWD is when a restaurant or business offers an optimized experience for smartphones. It’s safe to assume the user is currently on the move and needs quick, concise answers to common questions (directions, menu, hours of operation, phone number, etc.). Using RWD, we can tailor the smartphone experience to show the most important information front and center, in an easy to read fashion. So, instead of requiring a user to dig through a traditional website looking for the relevant information, we’ve designed the mobile experience to help them focus on solving their current problem quickly and easily. Once again, if we can’t answer these questions quickly, the consumer will move on to find them elsewhere.
Along with giving businesses the power to control the delivery of content to their customers, there are also plenty of other benefits that come along with RWD. One of the biggest is the fact that major search engines (especially Google) like the use of responsive design because there is no need for a dedicated “mobile” version of your website. Before RWD gained popularity, the concept of having a “mobile only” website alongside the desktop version was common. The biggest problem with this method was the fact that these were completely separate websites that required an entirely different design, separate maintenance, and separate Search Engine optimization and marketing efforts. In effect, businesses were maintaining 2 independent websites. Which is always a nightmare. RWD removes this need because you build one site that works for all devices. Another benefit is how your customers view your brand. With mobile use steadily increasing, users are getting more mobile savvy with each passing day and if they feel that your business isn’t keeping up with the times, they will move on to someone who they feel is more relevant. This concept runs even deeper because sometimes, even subconsciously, users might feel that if your website isn’t “current”, there might be deeper issues to consider, like security of their personal, credit card, or banking information.
In closing, as with many other technologies, there is always a question of how long a “standard” will remain and what will take its place. Responsive design is not a trend that will soon evaporate when the “next big thing” arrives. If anything, the need for RWD will only continue to increase with the constant addition of more devices and screen sizes. Because of this increasing need, the sooner a brand can “respond” to these requirements, the better.