If you’ve built a website for your business within the last five years, you’ve likely heard the phrase responsive web design. Responsive design can be explained in many different ways. Simply put, this design approach allows one design to fit various screen sizes.
When responsive design was introduced in 2010, it was widely misunderstood. People were already aware of mobile websites and began looking at responsive design as a one-fit fix for every website’s challenges. In reality, you don’t have to choose between responsive or mobile; the two are completely independent.
What is responsive design?
Responsive websites are built with fluid, flexible layouts. The design starts with a layout and stretches or squishes to fit any screen size the viewer is using. Instead of fixed sizes and positions, responsive designs use percentages and ratios. For example, a webpage viewed on a 17” desktop may look cluttered if viewed on a mobile device. Some blocks of text or a few pictures may need to be hidden. The sidebar that appears on the desktop version might need to be a dropdown at the top. This is where media queries come into play. Media queries are CSS rules a developer uses to adapt content to different screen and browser widths. The web developer will use CSS rules to add special styling instructions where the layout breaks (breakpoints). All images and media should be flexible with responsive design, using percentages and ratios to ensure they fit the layout when the website snaps to fit a different screen size.
Why is responsive design important?
While responsive design may not be a part of your short-term website strategy, it should definitely be included in the long-term plan. Responsive design will be an integral part of future-friendly web publishing. It solves many problems as technology companies continually release new products with different screen sizes and viewing requirements. For this reason, websites built with responsive designs respond to capabilities, not devices. When Apple releases the iPhone 20 your website will be just as beautiful and functional as it is for viewers using the 6.
What are the advantages?
Investing in a responsive website has numerous advantages. Not only will your website fit multiple screen sizes, but it will also be supported by the vast majority of browsers. This strategic, long-term solution will undoubtedly benefit you in years to come. Did you know responsive design is also recommended by Google? Google refers to responsive web design as the marketing industry’s best practice. This is because responsive websites have a single URL and the same HTML, making it easier for the search engine to crawl, index, and organize content. As an added benefit, you will only have to manage one SEO campaign instead of trying to tackle a campaign for a separate mobile site as well.
What are the disadvantages?
While there are many advantages to building a responsive website, there are a few drawbacks. Talking short-term, responsive websites do cost more than desktop-only sites. Creating a design that fits many screen sizes takes more time than it does to create a design that fits one screen. In the long-term, this drawback becomes an advantage. Having a single site that conforms to the needs of all devices is more cost effective than building two separate sites. Load time can prove to be another challenge for mobile users. Most browsers are required to download all HTML/CSS and “stretch” the website, both of which take time.
Overall, responsive design is an effective solution for those looking to provide an optimal user experience. The flexible features enhance user experience, providing visitors with the same viewing capability on different browsers and devices. Responsive design allows you to keep the same SEO strategy in place while reducing the amount of pages to manage and, subsequently, maintenance costs. Responsive design may cost more in the short-term, but you will reap the benefits for months, and even years, to come.