Developing for a Mobile First world is turning into a very exciting time for architects, developers, and designers of all things digital. We are creating experiences for devices that have surpassed almost all other forms of media (except possibly traditional television and PCs) in terms of how people consume content.
There is a dynamic ecosystem that we have been tasked to constantly push to the next level at a breakneck pace. New design patterns and development approaches are rapidly taking hold as we adapt to the changing means in which our users access the applications and sites that we create.
One of the more web-centric approaches to ensure that web content can be consumed by mobile device users is to leverage Responsive Web Design. In the past two years, this new pattern has taken the user experience world by storm as we look to design a single template to serve to devices of all screen dimensions and orientations.
Like most of us involved with creating “things” for the web, we always look to the next best thing even if it isn’t always the most sustainable simply for the sheer joy in what we do. As usual, we must sit back and perform a reality check prior to scaling a pattern from our 10-page microsite to a 2000 page website or complex intranet.
Responsive design reality check
Does Responsive Web Design provide real advantages over the traditional “m.” or “.mobi” site that serves up slimmed down content in a mobile web template – especially in cases of very large web properties? While there are certainly some increased upfront costs in making responsive site, the mid-long term is where your investment will reap its greatest rewards.
The below table shows the key advantages and disadvantages of responsive web design:
|Fewer templates to maintain||Increased design and development time|
|Consistent content and pages||Difficult to retro-fit on existing sites|
|Mobile First||Immature standards support|
A responsive design pattern when creating web assets starts paying off right after delivery by decreasing your continued site development time. You can be comfortable knowing that all of the users on devices that are hitting your online content are receiving an optimal user experience without adjusting multiple templates and maintaining separate sites. Your presence is truly “mobile first” as the world rapidly races towards the point that we consume the web more on smartphones and tablets than PCs. Finally, there are great search engine benefits for your public websites, from both an SEO and usability perspective, when you have accessible content at a single URL for all devices. This single URL avoids duplicate content, which can be detrimental to your Google ranking since the recent Google Penguin update. Google has also made an official stand in its support of Responsive Web Design for providing pages to mobile devices.
Upfront you will have a bit more design and front end development costs, along with testing that can become fun across so many different devices and screen sizes. Also, taking an existing site and “making it responsive” is not the most advisable of approaches due to the paradigm shift to Mobile First. Finally, keep in mind that the HTML and CSS standards that make all of this responsive stuff possible are still evolving to a certain degree and are not all true standards as of yet, notably the key W3C standards surrounding responsive images are still being hashed out and far from browser implementation.
So as architects, designers, and developers of things for the web, responsive design makes a lot of sense in many cases presented to us. Not all web assets are necessarily suited for the pattern, but a vast majority are very prime candidates indeed. When executed properly, providing a ubiquitous experience to your users across many different forms factors and devices will be well worth the effort. Happy mobilizing!
Learn more about user experience best practices and trends
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