Responsive web design – does not depend on the device
As the range of mobile devices increases, with dozens of available resolutions and functions, such as pixel ratio, it raises the question whether responsive web design, with its simple set-up viewport setting, will continue to fulfil its purpose in the mobile jungle.
In a clear and sound definition of “breakpoints”, the content should be readable on every modern display and monitor. The font is enlarged, text blocks are arranged in order of importance, and data size adapts to a mobile connection. Regardless of the device, the website is displayed properly. This was true for responsive design as a way of displaying content through platforms. But this is not the case for responsive design as a UX tool. Considering the accessibility and usability of the site, we have to dig deeper and be aware that ignoring differences in devices is a huge mistake.
Getting to the roots of responsive web design (RWD)
Responsive design emerged with the boom in mobile devices. One of its main ideas was to provide the same user experience across platforms. It is here that we come across the important “device-agnostic” approach concept to website design, an approach not tied to a particular device. Unlike adaptive design, RWD rarely needs to consider whether users are holding a mobile phone, or sitting behind a laptop, and they should be offered the same content, functionality and experience.
The device-agnostic approach offers responsive design with the benefit of a superb long-term solution, and as a result, websites will not have to be adjusted in a year because manufacturers have introduced a tablet with increased resolution or a new mobile operating system. With the page there is a specification of how the display size should be retained, regardless of whether it is on an HD mobile phone, tablet HD or HD monitor.
On paper this sounds wonderful, but in reality, such a strict approach does not work. User experience is not based on content the users see, but how the website is displayed and whether the website offers features and controls users are used to. This is known as “user context”, in which the device on which the website is viewed has an important function.
Context is the foundation
We either spend our days working with or playing on computers, mobile phones and tablets. We are gradually getting used to managing them, and this becomes second nature, not only in the interface of the operating system, but also on the web page. So if we tap a number on our mobile phones, we expect to be able to make a call.
Therefore, when designing the website, it is necessary to take account of the features and options of the devices on which it is displayed, if we want to offer the same user experience. In this case, a device-agnostic approach appears to be impractical and old-fashioned. It is better not to regard it as an approach.
Responsive design naturally develops, and the device-agnostic approach, one of its cornerstones, developed along with it. Device-agnostic is no longer an approach such as mobile-first, which we will decide to use at the beginning of the website design, or reject. Rather, it is part of responsive design and evolves with it. It must be accepted; but, as with responsive design as a whole, we can and must adapt it.
The clash between the context and independence on devices thus results in a linkage where the designer must consider the display resolution, but also take into account the functionality of devices offering such a resolution. And, above all the designer must be aware that websites are not designed for devices but for people.