Responsive web design

Is it right for your mobile site? Ignore the techies; ask marketing

Responsive web design – ignore the techies and ask marketing

Responsive Design is the latest buzzword to make its presence felt in web development circles. Many are claiming that these techniques are the most pragmatic way to provide mobile-friendly websites, while others see this as yet another example of techies getting excited about clever code.

If you aren’t familiar with Responsive Design, it is an approach to designing and coding websites which allows the content to be automatically reshaped or adapted to fit mobile browsers – and in fact any size of browser, from a huge screen on a designer’s mac down to the tiny screen on a Blackberry.

Mobile web – is there a real problem to solve?

Some of our clients’ websites now receive nearly a quarter of their visitors through mobile devices. And much of the time those devices are pretty good at zooming, scaling and resizing. But if you feel that looking at a full size website on a small screen is hard work, you’re not alone. In fact even on sites which the mobile browsers handle well, we’re seeing that visitors with mobile devices are viewing fewer than half the number of pages as those people who are browsing in comfort on a full-size screen.

That’s why many big brands have created mobile-optimised versions of their websites that are the perfect size, shape and feel for a small touchscreen browser.

But creating a mobile-optimised website is an extra cost. It may not be a huge cost, but it is a cost that didn’t exist before. And what about the content? If the mobile site is to be faster to load, easier to read and optimised for people who are on the move, it is going to take some time and effort to adapt the existing web content. What’s more, it will need to be kept updated alongside the main website.

An elegant alternative?

Responsive Design comes at the problem from a different perspective. Every browser is different, they say. You cannot design for one notional mobile device when different phones, tablets and mini-tablets have different screen sizes and resolutions. Instead, the thinking goes, you should create a site that detects how big each visitor’s browser is and adjust itself so that content moves and some design elements completely disappear as the screen size approaches a minimum.

However this approach also has its drawbacks. For a start, this is as much a design challenge as a coding one; instead of envisaging and planning up a set of web pages that work well in a given format, the designer has to spend time working out how their design elements will adapt and move. Ultimately they will still be creating a mobile site, albeit one that shares most of its content with the fullsize desktop version.

In reality, the cost of properly planning and coding a responsive site – particularly one that is visually attractive in all its forms – may not be any lower than creating separate desktop and mobile editions.

Responsive or mobile? Ask marketing!

What would suit your business best: responsive or separate desktop and mobile sites? Although this may seem like a techie question, it is really all about marketing:

A website is first and foremost a device for meeting your sales and marketing objectives. And as any good marketer can tell you, that means you need to start by identifying different customer segments and working out the most compelling way to reach each of those audiences.

So whether you create a dedicated mobile site will depend largely on how your particular customers  use their mobiles. Are they on the high street trying to find your store? Are they about to buy a product and want to check detailed specifications? Are they reading your newsletter in an airport lounge and clicking through to get more details?

When you stop and consider the customer, their immediate needs and the content you want to provide to them, I think you will find the decision much easier, whether to build a separate mobile site, create a responsive site, or ignore mobile users altogether.


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