Today’s computers look and work very little like boring beige boxes that sat on our desks tethered to the wall. They now sit in our hands, on our laps, and have a special place in our lives.
The problem is that as quickly as technology is changing, giving us new types of computers with new types of displays, much of the content we’re consuming still assumes we’re all still using the same clunky old desktop. We’ve made great strides in making information universally accessible, but we’re only now beginning to learn how to make it universally useful.
This means that we need to stop making assumptions about how the content we create and share will be consumed. We have tremendous experience and expertise when it comes to designing websites for desktop and laptop computers, but clever solutions for a big screen often make little sense on a small one.
Fortunately, there’s a proposed solution that’s elegant and efficient: responsive design.
Responsive design allows the same webpage to automatically display content differently in different contexts—one document to satisfy the needs of every possible browser, device, or screen. Content itself remains unchanged, it’s the design that adapts (or responds) to individual devices to ensure that content remains useful and the site remains functional.
There’s a strong business case for making web properties responsive: doing so saves time and money, improves the customer experience, and keeps the brand future friendly.
Saves time and money. Websites can be costly to build, as are dedicated mobile sites and applications. A responsively designed site offers complete functionality for both desktop and mobile users. This means a lower cost than having both types of site developed in parallel from scratch. And because the traditional approach assumes that desktop and mobile sites are distinct, the costs of updating content are often duplicated. With responsive design, new content is instantly available across all devices.
Improves the customer experience. Smartphones became popular in recent years because both technology and design had advanced to the point where it became possible to have powerful, functional, intuitive mobile computers. Today, the expectations against which any mobile website is judged are set by the device on which it’s viewed—and Apple, Google, and Microsoft have each spent a fortune to get those experiences just right. While you don’t have to outdo industry titans, no user wants to be suddenly confronted with a desktop layout that’s been shrunk past the point of utility—much less make a purchase. Instead, the entire mobile experience should be exactly that—a mobile experience—through and through.
Stays future friendly. No one knows exactly where technology is going. We’ve got some educated guesses and hunches, but most of the story remains unwritten and unplanned. One assumption that seems reasonably safe is that people are still going to want to access and consume information—we’re just not sure how and where. More than being about any specific device or piece of information, responsive design is about recognizing that content needs to be able to make itself useful wherever it winds up. While we don’t know what devices tomorrow will bring, we can make decisions today that will help us support them. Responsive design is one emerging example.
Responsive design is still in its infancy and while there’s not yet a single best way to achieve responsive results, every implementation is making the same argument: we no longer get to dictate how customers will be consuming our content, so we had better do everything we can to accommodate their choices. We need to respond to the market and have our websites respond to our visitors.