Is responsive design the end all solution or just another “One site to fit them all”?
Responsive web design (hereinafter RWD) has undoubtedly been an important topic recently. We have heard about it at conferences, we have read articles about it and we endeavour to understand the differences between responsive, fluid and adaptive design. Every online marketing expert brandishes the term before his superiors, every inquiry mentions it every manager wants to know whether he should utilize it. Is it the answer to problems we’ve been facing with multiple device web development?
We frequently encounter opinions and solutions that clearly show that a number of people fail to understand that RWD is not the GOAL, but simply the means in which to achieve the goal!
The new world of mobile platforms and multi-screens has provided us with new tools and techniques that enable us to deal with this new frontier. We have new options in CSS, we have media-queries and flexible grids, and UX/UI designers have finally been given a tool for creating RWD concepts in their wireframes and designs (even though we are still awaiting Axure 7 with anticipation).
All of these new options are in response to the problems we have been dealing with during the design of web applications or mobile websites for many years; how to deliver useful functions, great UI and relevant content to the user for minimal cost?
The end user doesn’t care how the page was made, whether it is RWD or not, as long as it looks and works as he expects. It is not important to the user If his browser rearranged the page by utilizing breakpoints, or if the server had pre-set page dimensions for his device. The user is only interested in whether the result is clearly arranged, is easily controlled and is relevant for his device, his current requirements and “usage context”.
RWD tools can help you achieve these goals. However, in regard to manufacturing costs, RWD will usually not help you achieve these goals at a lower cost! Particularly on the business level, we encounter the opinion that if we “make it responsive” we will not have to make three versions (web, tablet, mobile) but only one version – so ideally it should only cost one third of the price.
But this single version is much more complex and needs much more work. And not everyone can create a good RWD. This is a relatively new concept and it is not simple – you will need the best people in this field (from design to frontend programmers) and these people are logically more expensive.
Consequently you will probably spend more on the initial design and delivery stage. Where you will possibly save is on the subsequent administration and maintenance. You really have only a single version of the content and code, which can be maintained (if you have a single site, you cannot actually create any duplicity) with potentially less work and costs for SEO, etc. There is also a good chance that your design will still be relevant for the future resolutions that will appear on the market. There are certainly also other options for uniformly managing content and SEO for multiple (even non-responsive) web channels, but if the correct long-term vision is applied, RWD could also be worth it in regard to costs.
In conclusion, I would like to mention one “myth” which I believe surrounds responsive design. This is the inevitable decision between RWD and independent mobile version (in the sense of “either this or that”). So if I use RWD, I do not need to create a mobile site, right?
But an optimised mobile version can (and probably should) be established on RWD principles. The number of resolutions we have to cover in the mobile world is extreme. It is not so much design that makes it a “mobile version” (mobile phones and tablets can easily display the full web versions today), but the fact that functions and content are significantly adapted to the specific mobile usage context . But more about that in detail sometime in the future.
I would hate to give the impression that I am an opponent of responsive design. It is a great thing with the potential to enable us to do things better in today’s “fragmented” world and which significantly changes how we create webs starting from the initial design. But like all trends, RWD should not be considered a silver bullet, which is the solution to everything. Sometimes “One (RWD) site to fit them all” just does not apply.