What is responsive web design?

The last few years have shown a shift in the medium of web design. This responsive web design movement has largely focused on presenting content — the real core of any website — in the foreground, shifting the mindset away from the antiquated, layout-centric views transferred into web design from newspapers and print designs of old. This means that people browsing modern websites and mobile applications are receiving the same content on all devices, uniquely formatted for each, rather than a single design modified to fit on every device.

devices

All of 20th Cen’s latest websites (Cobblers shoes issues aside) are designed to be responsive and provide an enjoyable user experience on every type of device. This means that your website might look different on your phone than on your computer, but your visitors will be able to access the same content and navigate through that content without struggle.

Doesn’t this mean you have to design a separate website for your phone, and create additional site designs for your tablet and desktop? Isn’t that expensive?

Developing a website to function on all modern devices does take some extra time, but having the site accessible to everyone — no matter how they choose to access it — is a necessity in today’s digital environment. Since early 2014, mobile devices have accounted for more time spent online than computers. This means that when it comes to designing a website nowadays, there is a pretty good chance that your site will be viewed in more than one form, so it’s best to prepare for every situation.

Nobody is actually looking at my site on their phone. Why should I bother?

This is a pretty common concern with developing a responsive website. The root problem here isn’t only that the statement is false (people are looking at your site on their phone) but that as business owners and marketers, we always feel as though we have a perfect vision of what our clientele look and act like. Unfortunately for us, the data says otherwise. We may believe that we have a vivid picture of our audience that allows us to perfectly tailor an experience to them, but the reality is we don’t.

One example of developing with an overly confident (and incorrect) understanding of your audience happened to me a few years ago while building some basic mobile experiences for local restaurants. I thought that I understood the reasons people were visiting the website on their phone and designed accordingly. The result was a simple experience with a link to the menu, address, phone number, and hours. After all, what else could people possibly want?

It turns out that predicting a user’s desires is more difficult than I had assumed. I was bombarded with emails from users asking why they couldn’t use the commenting system or view the gallery, or even use the built-in contact form that was on the full desktop website. I foolishly believed that I knew what was important to every single visitor in every single situation. This experience allowed me to move my design and development practices forward; it taught me to stop relying on intuition and focus on the actual data.