Responsive web design is a skill set and methodology that has been increasingly in demand.
The phrase was coined in a 2010 article by Ethan Marcotte, and since then it has become a bit of a buzzword. Many web designers still mobile design as something you add later to a desktop site design. Conversely, practical web designers are embracing a “mobile first” web design methodology.
While responsive design began with mobile phones, and later tablets, the reality is the web has only just begun to mature, and there will be more devices to come. Responsive design matters not because it’s the future, but because it’s growing exponentially in the present. We can no longer classify responsive design as a subset of web design. For responsible and ethical web designers, responsive web design and “regular” web design are synonymous.
The Game Has Changed
In the formative years of the web, the desktop computer was the only way to access websites. Although an unstyled web page is responsive by nature, up until recently web designers sought pixel perfect control over the screen. The recent rise of smartphones and tablets led web designers to create specific layouts for specific devices. While that worked for a little while, designing for every device today would be a Sisyphean task. Now our websites have to be optimized for desktop, mobile, tablet, big screen TVs, console browsers, wearables (like Google Glass and smartwatches), and devices that fit somewhere in between.
Responsive Content Patterns
When the mobile web was new, web designers assumed that mobile use meant that users must be on the go, and therefore only needed information relevant to someone traveling around town. A few years later, the web industry realized that many people on the mobile web were at home, and just didn’t want to get up from the couch in order to go online. Attempting to predict user intent by device alone is inaccurate. Users of every device should be able to access the most pertinent information from a website.
This has led to another industry realization, that content strategy and responsive design are joined at the hip. Planning the hierarchy of content has to occur before responsive design can be effective. Larger organizations in particular struggle with this—while there is room on a desktop site to cram all sorts of information, the same is not true of a smartphone. Organizations with many departments competing for screen space have to decide what information is the most important. The slashing of what is not absolutely needed on a smaller screen helps create better design, because it forces content prioritization — what’s most important?
Responsive Design Is Also About Performance
At the same time, the average web page weight of the top 1 million sites in the world rose 50% to well over 1 MB from 2012 to 2013. At a time when web designers should be decreasing the weight of pages and making their sites faster, the industry seems to be heading in exactly the opposite direction.
This trend baffles me.
There is a direct correlation between page speed and customer conversions. Page load speed is also a factor in search engine ranking. One solution to this is to adopt a mobile first strategy: load a baseline version of the site for mobile users, and conditionally load a richer experience for desktop browsers.
Responsive Design Matters to Your Customers
Mobile design also matters to SEO. In fact, Google has said that non-responsive sites will on average rank lower than sites that are mobile friendly.
In 2014, mobile reached the tipping point, and became the #1 way people access the web. In other parts of the world, the percentage of mobile users is even higher. To me, it no longer feels like responsive design should be an option, it should be part of the package by default. For Lockedown Design, responsive design is regular web design.
Does designing for multiple devices take a bit longer than designing just for desktop? Of course it does, but it’s not 2001 anymore—you have to go where your customers are, or someone else will. The number of web devices on the market is not going to get smaller, it’s only going to get larger. Bringing value and service to your customers in a way that they expect and will appreciate is a good thing to do.