Responsive Design and The Future of Your Brand

Responsive Design is quickly becoming a buzzword in web design circles, but if you’re not a designer or developer, you might still be wondering what Responsive Design is, only to be confronted with confusing technical articles. Responsive Design is simply a website or web app that responds to the user, or more specifically, to the user’s device.

It used to be that you could design and build one website, test it in a couple different browsers, and expect it to work fine for everyone. Then, with the advent of smartphones, you also had to build a mobile website. Now, with no less than four different major desktop web browsers, three major smartphone platforms, and a plethora of screen sizes ranging from 3″ to 30″, you might be wondering just how many different websites you need to build in order to accommodate all these different users and devices.

One Site, Many Devices
What we’ve come to realize, is that building separate websites for separate devices is the wrong approach. The average smartphone is on the market for six months to a year, tops. You can’t build for just one phone and assume it’ll work for the rest. And what about tablets? Do you serve them the desktop version or the smartphone version? Do you have to design and build a separate tablet website? This is where responsive design comes in.

With responsive design, we build one site, but ensure that it can adjust itself to fit any situation. This way, your content becomes device-agnostic, while your design readily adapts to any device. Take the new website of The Boston Globe; On a mobile device, everything is laid into one column, and the navigation is tucked away into a drop down. As we move up into larger device sizes, we see the navigation expand, as well as seeing the main content area eventually become a two- and later three-column design.

The Boston Globe – From left to right: smartphone, tablet, small desktop, and large desktop.

This solves the problem of just guessing at how your users will browse your site and hoping for the best, while also providing an ideal experience for any user on any device. Additionally, you won’t have nearly as much trouble with future devices, as your site will already be adaptable to almost any situation.

Lose that Pixel-Perfect Attitude
So what are the drawbacks? First, it takes more time to develop a responsive website than a regular one, although usually less time than it does to develop a regular website and a mobile website. Secondly, we have to let go of the idea that a website should look exactly the same, all the time, no matter what. This can be difficult to do, but once we get past that, the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks.

Responsive design ensures that your digital brand will remain current and be experienced ideally for the foreseeable future. Do you think you will incorporate responsive design into your website in the future? Have you had any issues in developing a responsive website? Leave a comment and let me know. I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts.

Blade Studio

Blade Studio

Featuring news and opinions on the latest rebrands, logos, ads and more from the designers in the Blade Studio.

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  • What I love about this is that there are so many options out there today for users of technology–which is what makes responsive design necessary in the first place. But for the website developer, it’s a bit like the ancient Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.” The details of exactly how to respond to each device and each individual user’s expectations are still very complex… and not nearly as easy to solve as the simple catch-phrase responsive design makes them sound. Don’t you think there’s a danger in giving clients the impression that “responsive design” is a one-button fix for everything, when in fact it presents both the client and the designer with challenging decisions? As an account director, I would like to hear your suggestions on how to manage the expectations of a client who thinks her website should have all the same features and functions on every device. How do you “respond” to that? (And be nice… it’s the client, remember!)

  • Brian Walker

    The problem with having every feature and function available on every device is that not every feature and function is available on every device. For example, touch screen devices have no mouse hover state; either the screen is touched or it is not. Much of the modern web is built upon hover interactions, so we have to somehow respond and deliver an appropriate substitute to touch devices.

    We do have challenging decisions to make when it comes to implementing responsive design solutions, however, as the number and type of devices accessing the internet grows, we cannot afford to continue to ignore them. Responsive design is certainly not a one button fix, and the reality is that web design and development is only getting more complex. Responsive design is a way to approach that complexity and deliver the best possible experience to the most possible devices.

    Perhaps the best way to manage client expectations is by introducing them to a little bit of that reality. For example, Android now represents a hefty 60% of the smartphone marketplace, which translates to over 4,000 unique Android devices from about 600 manufacturers currently in use, and those devices represent a myriad of different screen sizes to contend with. This is just one example of many, where it is easy to see that delivering the exact same pixel-for-pixel experience to every device simply will not work.

  • Jordan G.

    Bravo Mr. Walker, bravo. I am an intermediate web developer learning new things all the time, and this post was right on the money. I couldn’t have said it any better myself, but agree with every single point. And your response to the Account Director was perfectly put as well.