What the Heck is Responsive Web Design?

In a recent post on site speed, we briefly mentioned Responsive Website Design. Have you ever viewed a site on 3+ different devices and it appeared to be handmade for each of them? Or have you ever adjusted the size of your desktop window and watch the content shift and adjust to fit your screen instead of slicing it in half? Then chances are good that you were witnessing responsive web design in action. In fact, if you are viewing this on our website, you are looking responsive web design right in the face. BAM!

When clients approach us for a new website, we frequently encourage them to “go responsive.” Sure it’s slightly more costly for them and more time consuming for us, but we don’t offer it for the cash flow and fun challenge. We offer it because it brings value to both your company and your viewers and it’s our job to make brands more awesome.

Why are we advocates for responsive web design?

It all starts with content.

Incase you haven’t heard, content is the buzzword of the decade, and rightfully so. It’s the only thing search engines are scanning and using to rank you as important or not so important. Way back in the day, it was easy to gain relevance in search by just posting a lot of pages that were full of seemingly relevant information. But as search engines have gotten smarter, they’re able to make a best guess if your content is quality or not. And that doesn’t even really matter, because once you have someone on your page it’s the content that is going to get them to do what you want them to do. That’s where design comes in.

Graphic Design is the discipline of packaging information and delivering it effectively to the user – and web design is no different. Websites are special, because you can’t control how the end user will consume the content on your website. You can’t just throw up a Internet Explorer on Windows ME only sign and call it a day. You have to plan for a large percentage of situations and make accommodations for them. That’s why some genius (not us) came up with the concept of responsive web design.

The impetus! Responsive web design is born.

It all started in the late Aughts. Back then we had a problem. The web had been available on phones for years, but smart phones were getting smarter and more and more people were choosing to look at websites on their phones. No big deal right? Just build a mobile site. But mobile sites were sites that were built for small screens that couldn’t handle awesome design. And people didn’t really care about viewing a full website on their phone right? The thing is these new phones were packing processors and internet connections that could handle so much more. Thanks to iOS and Android, websites now had to compete with native phone apps that were much cooler than the mobile sites in days of yore. Something had to be done or web designers were going to be left out of the smartphone party.

Responsive Web Design in Action.

Imagine you’re getting dressed in the morning. You’re trying to pick an outfit to wear but you have no idea where you are going to show up that day. You could be at the beach, you could have a meeting at work or you could be at a nightclub. The possibilities are endless, and you’ve gotta be ready to look your best no matter where you go. Wouldn’t it be AWESOME if you had an outfit that magically responded to all of these situations? Wouldn’t it be cool if wherever you walked into your outfit magically morphed into the perfect outfit for the situation? That’s responsive web design. When your website is responsive, it’s wearing a magical outfit that can morph itself into the best design for the situation: smartphone, tablet or desktop computer.

How the heck do they do that?

Whenever a browser reaches out to a website it sends information. It sends a lot of information actually. If they care, web developers use this information to deliver the best user experience. Because all browsers render websites differently, the two main things you need to know are what browser they are using and what are the browser dimensions. From those two key pieces of information you can change the “outfit” of your website to the proper attire for the occasion, and it’s all done through the magic of media queries.

Solving problems you don’t have.

Back when iPhones came out, everyone started talking to us about building an app. They wanted to be a part of that movement, they wanted to say, yes we have an app. But the purpose of apps was to make life easier, and a lot of people lost sight of that – building apps that really had no purpose other than to say they existed. So the first thing we do is ask ourselves, should this website be responsive? Does our clients business justify creating 2 more versions of this website to deliver a better user experience? Could that budget be used elsewhere?

A lot of people today are asking us for responsive designs because they want to be part of that movement – they want their site to be the best in class, even if it doesn’t make sense for their business. The good news is, unlike apps, responsive websites are relatively inexpensive to implement comparatively speaking. But if you’re not one to make business decisions on the cool factor, you can verify how sound an investment a responsive site is by reviewing your analytics platform and seeing how much of your current traffic comes from mobile or tablet devices. Finally, we know you’re wondering if having a responsive site will increase your search engine ranking, and sadly it won’t. It always has been, and hopefully always will be, about user experience.

User experience drives brand.

It’s our position that user experience should be your primary focus in building your brand. Pretty much everything you do as a business contributes to the overall user experience, from the quality of your products to the cleanliness of your office environment. Your website may be the primary interaction with your brand, or a supplemental force in an integrated marketing campaign with wide scope. Either way, responsive design is a tool that can be used to enhance user experience, and if you’re any good at algebra, you’ve just linked up that responsive design is a powerful tool for enhancing your brand.