What the heck is Responsive Design?
by Andrew Millar
Remember when the first iPhone was released? There is a good chance you thought to yourself, “Who would want one of those?” But the popularity of the hand-held traveling office has been so intense that today you are more likely to meet someone with a smartphone than without.
In those initial days, responsive design was not even a thought. Surfing the web on your phone was a tiresome endeavor. It made even those with the best eyesight feel like they needed glasses.
Luckily, those computer folks are pretty darn smart. Listening to the concerns (aka headaches induced by heavy amounts of squinting) of users, they set out to develop a web design format optimized for smartphones.
The catch was, the design needed to be workable across multiple formats. It was not just smartphones they were dealing with. It was desktop computers, tablets, laptops and massive TV screens. Websites needed to provide an optimal viewing experience on any device. Responsive design was born.
Specifically, a responsive design responds to its environment. It recognizes what kind of device you are using and then optimizes your view of the site. Pretty darn smart, wouldn’t you say?
Responsive Design is No Longer an A + B = C Process
In the old days of building websites, it was a lot like painting a picture. Designers worked within a fixed-width. Sketches were presented to clients for approval. The entire site was built off-line, reviewed, probably reviewed again, and then launched.
The process was straightforward. It was one that clients (the bill payers) could wrap their heads around. Unfortunately, this kind of process does not work when you are building a responsive design. If you try and force it to do so, you will end up with a clunky excuse for an optimized website.
Remember, clunky is only good when you are dressing as a 1960s go-go girl for Halloween.
Instead, responsive design needs to be built in a live environment. Throughout the development process, your designer needs to test its functionality on a wide variety of devices. Scaling down and scaling up text, images and logos is not as simple as stretching and shrinking it to fit.
Why? Because this does not present a consistent branding experience for your client.
The end goal of responsive design is a better user experience through a best possible representation of your brand.
Do not let this “live” process scare you. Any responsive design builder worth their salt knows to build on what’s called a dev site. A dev site is an obscure web address that you and your clients would not have a hope of stumbling across.
What is really cool about this process, other than the fact that your website will be responsive? You can watch as your website is built! If your designer shares the dev site link with you, you can follow along with their progress. This will allow you to understand the decisions made.
Good Responsive Designs Identify The Most Important Information
Often times the decisions that have to be made come down to identifying the most important information your website is meant to share. Smartphone and tablet screens are only so big. For your design to be user friendly, what a smartphone user sees can only contain so much information.
Not only does this mean that the desktop version of your site needs to be simplified, it means that as your site shrinks – responding to its environment – the information shared should be reduced to make the most important details and call-to-actions prominent.