Responsive Web Design Is Not One-Size-Fits-All


Now more than ever, people have come to expect an optimal browsing experience. Mobile has disrupted what this means, bringing forth a number of different types of user has disrupted what this means. Often, this is a good thing. But sometimes, what feels like progress can actually be a step backwards. Many web developers are moving to responsive design websites to consolidate their web strategy, but this decision can be a setback for long-term success.

When determining how to best capture and convert traffic for your brand on every device, it’s important to keep in mind all of your web design options: (1) responsive web design, (2) a mobile website, and (3) a dedicated app.

Responsive design dynamically adapts websites to different screensizes (desktop, tablet smartphones by leveraging one set of code. The advantage of this approach is that the website’s content and features are the same across devices and the user interface adapts automatically. This means that companies can reach their customers across any device without the need of a separate mobile site.

Both mobile websites and apps involve developing a product distinct from your brand’s primary site and instead tailored to mobile dimensions. At face value, this seems like a lot of work, money, and resource for a minimal return. But when we dig deeper, we find that development costs and time to build mobile sites only slightly outweigh those for responsive design. 

While responsive sites do offer the simplicity of maintaining a single website, simple isn’t always better. Take, for example, an online travel booking website. A recent Webtrends survey revealed that 41 percent of travelers do their research using a mobile device (smartphone or tablet), but prefer to book with their desktop or laptop (55 percent).

Of those surveyed, 31 percent preferred booking on their desktop because of the small size of the mobile screen.

Given the number of steps involved in an average travel purchase, a simpler site that doesn’t offer horizontal navigation or requires more scrolling may run the risk of alienating its loyal desktop users. It’s important to keep in mind that the features we take for granted in desktop web design can be difficult to reproduce for responsive websites.

Before selecting a mobile solution, it’s essential to dedicate substantial time to really understanding the intent behind your customer’s behavior, rather than the behavior itself. Let’s say only 20% of your monthly visitors access your site with a mobile device. This may indicate that you should dedicate more resources to the larger desktop user base, but it could also indicate that the experience of using your site on mobile is dreadful.

Engagement metrics can guide this decision to a point, but analytics are based on trends and the way consumers are interacting with the product at hand. Why not give them something better? While mobile transactions continue to increase, user behavior also continues to change, and it may not follow the trajectory we expect. What won’t change is the reason your customer loves your brand. 

Don’t compromise—optimize. In web design, the best of both worlds is a myth. You may think your responsive site will look pretty good on the new iPhone, not too bad on an Android tablet, and just fine on the desktop. Unfortunately, responsive sites are not device-agnostic, and “just fine” will likely translate to “terrible” or effectively “unusable.” Over the lifetime of your brand, an incrementally higher cost and time investment will result in a far superior experience for your customer—and for you.

Here’s the bottom line: until responsive design makes major advances, it is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The priority of any website is to give the user what they expect. A single design that contorts itself to fit the device of choice often disrupts the user experience and, therefore, the user. More options in the mobile age doesn’t just mean more types of design—it means when your customer feels frustrated, they can head elsewhere.

One comment

  1. demetrio says:

    I agree, I think there’s way too much hype around responsive design; mostly because of the idea that it’s somehow going to provide the best experience just by filling more screenspace. This I think is faulty thinking. Too often responsive means mediocre experience on all screen sizes. On the large end a 960px site looks better than these ridiculous sites trying to fill the whole screen with gigantic text; on the small end there are also challenges as you described. I think the future should be more device optimized than the one size fits all responsive design. people don’t want to read gigantic lines of text even on large monitors, and just stacking everything is hardly the best mobile experience.

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