As has been said by every wannabe internet analyst, the web has gone through numerous evolutions in a very short period of time. These evolutions have presented many and more opportunities to grow brands, grow business, and/or grow your personal collection of cat pictures. Not only has the internet itself been evolving, but so has the way in which we, as a society, are able to experience all the internet has to offer. Desktops, laptops, tablets, phones, even fridges (Yes, I do want the internet on my fridge, please). The web can be accessed nearly anywhere. What with the portability of the web in the hands of someone with a smartphone or tablet, which is nearly everyone, it becomes ever more important that we, as the craftsmen of the web, ensure that these people are met with experience that’s right for their environment.
And so enters Responsive Web Design
It’s likely you’ve heard all this before. Responsive Web Design (RWD) is an amazing innovation that allows web developers to optimize websites so that they’re easily navigable regardless of the device being used to check out your website. Consider your trip into work everyday. You’re on a cramped bus, sardined in with numerous others, all just as surly and embittered that they had to wake up as you are. You, however, have a secret. You’ve got a website you go to every morning that cheers you up. Doesn’t matter what the content is. Cat pics, daily prose from amateur poets, biting reviews on the TV shows you’re watching. Whatever it may be, if it doesn’t fit on your phone, it’s going to be a lot less effective at putting some pep in your step.
If you didn’t see the value behind responsive design before, I hope that’s beginning to change. It’s amazing, really, to be able to take something that was once static, unmoving, and uncaring, and make it organic. The web suddenly becomes a living, breathing organism, capable of making its own decisions when presented with different circumstances. However, as with every fairy tale, there’s always an underlying note of caution. A life lesson, if you will. When responsive design was introduced and very rapidly became “the next big thing”, so too came the bandwagon on which it would ride to fame and glory. Many people jumped headlong into this bandwagon in an attempt to stay ahead of the game without ever stepping back to analyze and debate the pros and cons of the concept behind responsive design.
the right tool for the right job
It’s simple. It makes sense. You wouldn’t use a paperclip to remove a nail from some drywall… unless of course you’re MacGuyver and you’ve got some chewing gum kicking around. The same concept applies to responsive design. Now, don’t get me wrong. In all honesty, you could probably find a solid argument for the case of making any given site responsive pretty easily. I’d be one of the first on board with you as I, for one, want the web accessible wherever I am and whatever I’m doing. On the other hand, I don’t necessarily want to be staring down the WHOLE web when I’m on my smartphone and I’ve got 30 minutes to spend perusing while stuck on public transit.
Prioritize your Content
Companies with large websites especially should be taking some extra planning and strategy time to decide which aspects of the site need to be most prevalent when being viewed on a mobile device. Some questions to ask yourself are:
- Who are the people who are visiting on their mobile devices?
- What are they doing or going to want to do on our site from the mobile devices?
- How many clicks and how much scrolling are they going to have to do to get where they’re going?
From the answers to the questions above, we can start to more easily decide what should be on the mobile view and what should be hidden and left to when the user has access to a larger screen. As a case study, imagine you’ve been in a car accident. Nothing major, you’re okay, and you’ve got your wits about you. The first thing that comes to mind is that you need to file a claim with your insurance company. Naturally, you’ll reach for your smartphone to look up the phone number you need to call and be able to do so. Unfortunately, this vital piece of information, which by all good logic should be prominently displayed up front and centre on a mobile device, is buried behind curtains of text and pretty pictures proclaiming just how easy it is to make a claim in the event of an accident.
For all intents and purposes, the mobile view of a site should regularly be viewed as its own site unto itself. When planning it out, use case scenarios need to be taken into account along with the other myriad of factors that go into planning a website for a target audience. Your visitors are your connection to the world. Without them, it’d just be you. So do them a favour and give them exactly what they want, when they need it.
Can’t figure out what your visitors want or when they need it? Ask them. They’ll appreciate the chance to give back to you by helping you evolve with them, and the rest of the web.