People are increasingly using mobile devices like tablets and smartphones to browse the Web. The variety of screen sizes, resolutions, and platforms people use to access webpages has given birth to a new movement in website design called responsive Web design. Using responsive Web design, developers create one single site to function properly across all devices instead of producing multiple dedicated site designs to work with particular screen sizes and platforms.
While responsive Web design can be a great way for developers to ensure that their site is compatible with all devices, implementing it instead of targeted Web designs (i.e. a page designed for the iPad) also comes with certain drawbacks. Here is an overview of the changing climate of Web devices, followed by tips for evaluating whether or not you should implement a responsive design.
Mobile Screens Are Taking Over
In 2010, the average number of uniquescreen resolutions was 97; three years later that number has rapidly increased to 232. The huge variety of screen resolutions today means it's becoming even more difficult for developers to ensure the functionality of websites across devices. And while phone apps are certainly popular, people are using their smartphones and tablets more and more to access the Web; in fact, 28% of Americans access the Web more often on their smartphones than on their desktop computers. Since a whopping 91% of people in the U.S. keep a mobile device within reach 24/7, it's likely that mobile Web browsing will increase. This increase in mobile Web browsing means designers must create mobile-friendly websites or risk losing customers.
Mobile-Friendly Web Design Is Crucial to Ecommerce
Online retailers are especially aware of the importance of mobile Web design, as shoppers increasingly turn to their mobile devices to make purchases online. Currently, 21% of Web traffic to leading eCommerce sites comes from smartphones and tablets. 51% of shoppers in the U.S. used a smartphone or tablet to make at least one online purchase in 2013. By 2017 this number is expected to increase to 77%! E-purchases made from smartphones and tablets will total $38.8 billion this year; in 2017, mobile purchases are expected to reach $108.6 billion. These high potential profits leave online retailers no choice but to optimize users' mobile shopping experiences on their sites, lest they allow competitors to win customers over through their own optimized mobile user experiences.
Responsive Web Design: The Benefits and Pitfalls
Though responsive Web design can help ensure great-looking sites across devices, some drawbacks lead developers to use other means of creating mobile-friendly sites.
The Benefits of Responsive Web Design
- Consistent user experiences across all touchpoints
- Reduce the need for multiple specialized Web designers
- Use a single code base and one website for all customer experiences
- Minimize quality assurance needs, maintenance risks, and release cycle times for each update to your Web design
- Better marketing visibility since URLs are consistent across devices
The Potential Pitfalls of Responsive Web Design
- Slower download speeds since the site loads all image elements on every device
- Potentially longer and costlier initial development period
- Content must be available on all platforms and operating systems
- Customers don't necessarily want the same experience from your website on every device
- Inability to acknowledge mobile-specific keywords
- Doesn't replace the need to develop unique experiences for given touchpoints
Should You Implement Responsive Design? Here's a Checklist
Here are five key questions to ask yourself to help you determine if your website would benefit from responsive design:
Does Your Website Actually Need It?
If the majority of your sales and conversions are made from desktop computers, you might better spend your resources optimizing other parts of your website, such as speeding up load times.
Do You Have the Budget?
Will the costs associated with upgrading your site to a responsive design be offset by increased sales and/or decreased development costs in the long run? If not, responsive web design may not be worth it economically.
Can Your Team Handle It?
Responsive Web designs often require more time to develop and implement than traditional Web designs, Plus, testing responsive sites across all potential screen sizes and platforms can be a bitch! Before you make the switch to responsive design, make sure your team can handle the extra work.
Are You Okay With the Design Limitations?
Creating a site that provides a consistent experience across desktop computers and mobile devices often means leaving certain features outside the door. Are you okay with the branding limitations this may bring?
Will You Maximize the Opportunity?
Responsive Web design is only worth implementing if you have a personalization strategy in place to target users with the right content.
While responsive Web design is certainly gaining popularity, your site may be better off without it. Consider the pluses and minuses carefully before committing to any redesign plan for your site – otherwise you could land yourself in a developer's nightmare or worse – you could lose customers!
Do you use responsive design in your site? What do you think responsive design brings to the table?