We recently had a client email a question about responsive design. He asked…
“You once mentioned in a meeting that you and SPL were not fans of responsive design. I assume you favor a separate mobile experience. I was curious as to why you thought that. Have you seen anything or had any experiences that point to responsive design being an inadequate solution?”
I realized that when I read his question I had made an incomplete, and kind of unfair, comment. In thinking about it, I guess it would be more accurate to say that I don’t believe responsive design is as “one size fits all” as some purport it to be. Therefore, there are three (3) fundamental considerations that I wanted to share. If you are thinking about responsive design for your website, I hope these questions will give you something to think about before making a final decision.
What exactly do you mean by “responsive design?”
There is the kind of responsive design that simply adjusts the layout of the page based on the screen resolution. This type works for smaller sites as well as content-based sites, like many media sites. On the other end of the spectrum, there is the kind of responsive design that dynamically adjusts the page content that is or is not included based on screen resolution. It is this kind of responsive design that we would be more likely to recommend, since this is far more flexible in its nature, and, therefore, far more utilitarian. For a good example of a more dynamic use of responsive design, take a look at this site for this top New York medical malpractice lawyer on both your desktop and then your smartphone.
What’s the alternative?
The debate would be between responsive design (whatever flavor of it) and having a unique user interface (UI) per device. So, basically, you have a desktop site design and a mobile site design and, possibly, even a tablet site design. I think that one of the main considerations here is the nature of the content and how that content is best managed. The more page centric the content, the more I would lean toward responsive, whereas the more content centric the more I would lean toward unique UIs. These aren’t hard and fast rules, just initial thoughts assuming all things are equal.
What do people want to see?
In other words, how much variation there should be between the user experiences on different resolutions? And that depends on who is looking to do what on which resolution. A great example of this would be an airline. Between the booking engine and the nature of a desktop or tablet users primary goals (searching flights, booking flights, etc.) versus the nature of a smartphone users primary goals (checking flight times, checking in for flights, viewing baggage restrictions, etc.), the user experience (UX) changes in some significant ways, thus calling for an alternate UI. A good example of this is comparing southwest.com to mobile.southwest.com.
Again, I think a lot of people feel like “responsive design” is the right answer to every web design question, however, like most things in life, it depends. Start with the questions above. That should help kick off some thinking that will help you make the best decision for people who visit your site. And if those people are happy, you will be too!
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