Why responsive web design?
The Internet has changed dramatically in the last several years. The development of powerful smart phones and affordable tablets has resulted in more and more people using the web in a mobile way, bucking the restraints of desktop and laptop computers. The conundrum for many developers is how best to accommodate users to ensure their designs fit in the new, mobile web. These developers look to web design courses, conferences, and examples from their peers for inspiration, but what will work?
Many sites have made use of mobile websites and website plugins, but more and more are making the shift to responsive web design. While imperfect, responsive web design is emerging as one of the most popular trends in web design. Even with this growing popularity, many people have an incomplete understanding as to what it is, and the benefits it provides for a website.
Explaining Website Responsive Design
A responsive design is one that responds to the screen size and the type of device of a visitor browsing a website. This is in lieu of a dedicated mobile site and theme. A design’s responsiveness is triggered through a small amount of design code that handles both the detection of a particular screen, as well as the adjustment required to make it fit.
Depending on the content management system in use, the code that results in a responsive design will often go in the main CSS “sheet” from which all other templates are drawn when new pages and posts are created. In the simplest of terms, the code contains inputs that detect a particular screen size, triggering a shift in the design to accommodate almost every size and type of screen imaginable.
The Most Important Benefits
Before addressing the concepts of responsive design and how it works, it is important to lay out a few benefits responsive web design has over other mobile friendly options.
The first has to do with branding. Online businesses rely heavily on brand recognition. The fast pace and constant flow of information and sales pitches can confuse consumers and web users. Having a strong and recognizable brand sets businesses apart from the rest. A company’s products, as well as their website design both play heavily into establishing a brand in a customer’s mind. A responsive design takes the same page and design, and then adjusts its size to fit different screen sizes and types.
The second has to do with cost. Rather than develop multiple properties, such as a regular website, mobile theme and mobile app, a small amount of code can be added to make a website design responsive and mobile friendly.
Third, responsive web design is still somewhat unique. Some large brands, like BBC, are choosing responsive design over mobile themes, but most small to mid-sized companies are slow to adapt. A responsive design is a great way to set one company’s image apart from the rest, whether you are involved in helping students find early childhood education degree programs or are selling computer hardware.
The fourth important benefit relates to search engine optimization, or SEO. SEO, at the most basic level, is a combination of website speed, title tags, various content and navigation factors, and inbound links. The redirect from a page meant for regular web users, to one for mobile users results in a loss of inbound link authority. The advantage of responsive web design then, is that with only one page, any SEO practices already in place are maximized.
The Concept Behind Responsive Design
In short, the concept behind responsive web design is based on flexibility. Instead of a custom design to fit each mobile device as well as laptop and computer screens, one design that can adapt to any device and screen size is often preferred.
Responsiveness changes web design from a problem concerned with compatibility to one of scale. How can text, images and navigation be scaled from one device and screen size to the next?
Adjusting for Screen Size
The iPhone and iPad are the best current example of the need for flexible design options. They are both capable of navigating to a web page in either portrait or landscape mode, requiring that the resolution on the screen adjust with the view.
The Simple Reality
As companies look around the web and plot their future strategy, responsive design must be considered. Some may perform best with mobile specific themes and apps, but as browsing devices change and the web matures, responsive web design figures to grow more important and popular.