Responsive Web design is the approach that suggests that design and development should respond to the user’s behaviour and environment based on screen size, platform and orientation. The practice consists of a mix of flexible grids and layouts, images and an intelligent use of CSS media queries. As the user switches from their laptop to iPad, the website should automatically switch to accommodate for resolution, image size and scripting abilities. In other words, the website should have the technology to automatically respond to the user’s preferences. This would eliminate the need for a different design and development phase for each new gadget on the market.
What Does Responsive Web Design Look Like?
The purpose of responsive design is to have one site, but with different elements that respond differently when viewed on devices of different sizes.
Let’s take a traditional “fixed” website. When viewed on a desktop computer, for instance, the website might show three columns. But when you view that same layout on a smaller tablet, it might force you to scroll horizontally, something users don’t like. Or elements might be hidden from view or look distorted. The impact is also complicated by the fact that many tablets can be viewed either in portrait orientation or turned sideways for landscape view.
On a tiny smartphone screen, websites can be even more challenging to see. Large images may “break” the layout. Sites can be slow to load on smartphones if they are graphics heavy.
However, if a site uses responsive design, the tablet version might automatically adjust to display just two columns. That way, the content is readable and easy to navigate. On a smartphone, the content might appear as a single column, perhaps stacked vertically. Or possibly the user would have the ability to swipe over to view other columns. Images will resize instead of distorting the layout or getting cut off.
The point is: with responsive design, the website automatically adjusts based on the device the viewer sees it in.
How Does Responsive Web Design Work?
Responsive sites use fluid grids. All page elements are sized by proportion, rather than pixels. So if you have three columns, you wouldn’t say exactly how wide each should be, but rather how wide they should be in relation to the other columns. Column 1 should take up half the page, column 2 should take up 30%, and column 3 should take up 20%, for instance.
Media such as images is also resized relatively. That way an image can stay within its column or relative design element.
Mouse v. touch: Designing for mobile devices also brings up the issue of mouse versus touch. On desktop computers, the user normally has a mouse to navigate and select items. On a smartphone or tablet, the user mostly is using fingers and touching the screen. What may seem easy to select with a mouse, may be hard to select with a finger on a tiny spot on a screen. The Web designer must take “touch” into consideration.
Graphics and download speed: Also, there’s the issue of graphics, ads and download speed. On mobile devices, it may be wise to display fewer graphics than for desktop views so that a site doesn’t take forever to load on a smartphone. Larger ad sizes may need to be exchanged for smaller ads.
Apps and “mobile versions”: In the past, you might have thought about creating an app for your website — say an iPad app or an Android app. Or you would have a mobile version specifically for BlackBerry.
Why Small Businesses Need to Switch to Responsive Web Design
More people are using mobile devices. A recent Pew study found that 45% of American adults own a smartphone, and 31% own a tablet computer. As we reported yesterday, smartphone shipments outpace those of regular mobile phones, and tablet growth is surging.
Check your traffic and you might just be shocked at how many visitors are getting to your website through mobile devices. (In your Google Analytics, select “Audience” on the left side, then “Mobile” to see what proportion of traffic is from mobile devices. You can even drill down to see which devices are sending the traffic.)