Responsive web design is all the rage these days. If you’re going to have a website, you better make it responsive. So, what exactly makes a web design responsive? Responsive web design is an approach to web design that adjusts to the user, from varying browser sizes to changes in device. It’s been around for a few years, but it’s finally taking off and having a huge affect on websites.
Responsive websites work by using media queries to detect the device being accessed on the Internet. Once this determination has been made, a combination of flexible images, type, and grids adjust to fit the screen on which the site is being viewed.
Responsive design is popular now because of the number of tablets and smartphones in the market. The number of users accessing the Internet via a device other than a desktop computer is rapidly increasing, making is necessary for web developers to think about all the different ways their information is being viewed.
Responsive Design is More Than a Trend
Our collection use of a variety of devices is unlikely to change. The variety of computer monitor shapes and sizes continues to expand. These factors along should be reason enough to understand why responsive design is important and likely to become the standard practice for developers. Every website needs to work well from device to device. More and more users have come to expect a consistent experience regardless of the device they use to access a website.
Responsive techniques, while sometimes time-consuming in the planning phases, can help developers in the long run. With a responsive plan, there is no need for multiple websites and redirects to sites that are designed just for mobile or tablets. This can make updates much simpler, because one update will address all devices.
Responsive Design is NOT Mobile Design
While responsive design is a great technique for rendering content on mobile devices, it’s not a mobile design. Responsive design is “whole web design”.
Yes, responsive techniques should work on mobile devices. It can even be argued that the design process may even start with mobile, but it is so much more than that. The best responsive sites can be viewed as intended on desktops at a variety of resolutions. Those same sites also look amazing on tablets, with both standard and retina displays, and smartphones.
Navigation is Key
The era of the dropdown menu may be over. Simple navigation is a key feature of many responsively designed websites. Dropdown menus don’t work very well with touch. Navigation must work for users who click or tap. Larger Navigation elements are also becoming more popular. Again, touch devices are driving this trend becuase a minimum size of 44×44 pixels is best for mobile device users.
When designing and thinking about navigation, it helps to think about the smallest sizes first. Design navigational elements to work at the smallest sizes and work up to the largest sizes, remembering that elements for additional navigation can be added for larger sizes.
The key is to keep the design simple and easy to understand at any size. Users must be able to quickly understand how to use a site for it to be effective.
Responsive Design is Good for SEO
Responsive design improves search engine optimization (SEO). For anyone building a website with branding, sales, or visibility in mind, this benefit alone is enough reason to consider using a responsive design scheme.
Because a responsive web design all lives in one place with one URL, as opposed to multiple pages targeting mobile formats, linking remains simple. Redirects don’t take away from the main site and advertising campaigns all point to one location.
Having a single website destination with a standard set of language, metadata, and keywords is also important. There is no worry that updates have been made in one place but not another or that links redirect improperly.
Another advantage is that for analytics and data collection, you don’t need to track multiple URLs and redirects in addition to the main site or URL. The single responsive page can collect analytics regardless of the user’s device.
Responsive Design Will Evolve
Responsive web design as it exists now, is not a perfect solution; it is just part of an evolving process. As technology and user habits change and new devices hit the market, practices for how the web is used and developed will adjust.
Web users are already using a variety of devices to view most websites. Right not there are just too many devices and too many options to create a site that is perfect for every one.
When your make your website responsive, it will be even more intuitive and it will provide a consistent experience regardless of the device, even as new devices are released.
Different devices can still provide very different experiences even without a responsive design (e.g. clicking vs. tapping or zooming vs. scaling). Even the amount of time spent on a site or the reason for visiting may differ depending of what type of device the user has. Consider how users will actually use a site on varying devices. While it isn’t a perfect solution yet, responsive design will continue to develop and enable you to move in this direction.
Despite any current limitations in responsive design, it’s important to start now. By implementing a responsive web design now, you can position your site to be usable in any environment.