Should all new websites be responsive web design?

responsive web design

Responsive web design: the debate rages

Responsive web design is guaranteed to get people talking and that is exactly what happened when the question “Should all new websites be built to be responsive web design” was posted on LinkedIn last week. Some fairly heavyweight people waded in to the argument and given the fluid state of opinion and the growing profile responsive web design is garnering I thought it worth sharing the views. I have summarised our view at the end as I don’t agree with all the points made.

Responsive web design isn’t understood

Not surprisingly given how new it is, most people don’t understand the term. Many seem to believe that responsive web design is separate apps for mobile and tablet or something different altogether. More worrying is that many agencies don’t seem to understand it or if they understand the term they don’t understand how to properly execute it. Comments from one agency accused others of simply trotting out the same line rather than really thinking about the mobile experience.

In favour of apps for user experience

There was significant support for dedicated apps and also for apps supported by a website. The main thrust of the arguments here centred on context of use and essentially that the mobile context lends itself better to use of an app from the user perspective. One contributor asked whether we could name one big digital product that hasn’t gone mobile specific. Another suggested apps were only valuable where the user needed to tap into some device that couldn’t be accessed through a browser.

Not all website should be responsive web design

Not everyone favoured apps as the sole alternative to responsive web design. Others felt that a mobile optimised website offered the best user experience by far. They went as far as saying that they couldn’t think of any site, other than brochure ware, that wouldn’t work better as a mobile optimised. If there is even a small amount of interactivity a mobile optimised design will work better it was also claimed.

Websites are like dogs: there are no bad websites, only bad owners

A strong case was made that the problem is not with the technique but with the application. Responsive web design does not absolve website owners of responsibility for creating better content and that this has to be seen as an element of doing responsive web design responsibly. Similarly designers that are tech lead, don’t consider mobile specific requirements, don’t bring good design practices learnt from doing desktop designs, or simply are not respectful to the potential user (for example by not considering bandwidth limits/costs) are not doing a good job for their client and this is reflecting unfairly on the technique.

Our View

As you can read, there is no single view point concerning responsive web design although there is some recognition that if it is done well, it can deliver toward its promise. We are generally in favour of responsive web design although with some caveats it is fair to say. Here are a few recommendations that reflect this.

  • Don’t abdicate responsibility
    • This is true with any website design but especially so for Responsive web design. You need to be involved in the design process and particularly with decision making over content strategy and organisation
  • Apps are OK if you can avoid deletion
    • Estimates put the number of apps that are deleted after just one use at 80-90%.  An app may deliver the best user experience ever but if you can’t keep it on the device you are better off with a website
  • Research and testing
    • There are plenty of techniques and technologies that are new and not properly understood. Clearly if you are planning on responsive web design but don’t fully understand it you should get some genuine expertise on board to advise you and your team. You should also make sure you do proper user research and usability testing to make sure the mobile experience is a good one.
  • Most website could be responsive web designs
    • We think the majority of websites can be delivered well using responsive web design but that currently it isn’t easy to get right. There are too few people who fully understand the implications of going down the responsive design route for the business, design and user. This doesn’t mean brands shouldn’t try but they should go in with their eyes open and demand the same comprehensive approach as they would for a single platform desktop build.

If you are considering or already have a responsive web design and would like to understand how to ensure a great user experience then get in touch or download one of our various eGuides.

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