An Introduction to Responsive Web Design: The Future of Websites

The growth of the use of mobile devices and smartphones to browse the internet has grown exponentially over the past 5 years. Morgan Stanley estimate that by 2015 Mobile internet traffic will overtake desktop traffic.
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The growth of the use of mobile devices and smartphones to browse the internet has grown exponentially over the past 5 years. Morgan Stanley estimate that by 2015 Mobile internet traffic will overtake desktop traffic.

The requirements of how websites should be used and display has changed. Previously websites were optimized with desktop computers in mind, now website designers are building with a mobile first approach to user experience design. Not only that, but website users are now expecting that a website is optimized for mobile browsing, and if they come across a website that isn't this may result in a negative first impression, deterring them from doing business with you. According to Hubspot; 61% of people have a better opinion of brands when they offer a good mobile experience.

There are many different ways you can optimize a website for mobile devices, such having as a mobile version of website, or a separate mobile app. But for a multitude of reasons, responsive mobile design has fast become the industry standard for websites.

As a small business owner you likely manage a website already and you will more than likely consider having a responsive website the next time you upgrade or re-design your website. So it is worth understanding the fundamentals of responsive web design.

So, What is Responsive Web Design?

In short, it is exactly what it says on the box. Responsive web design allows the website to adjust, or respond to how, where and the way it is being viewed. This can go beyond the website's layout exclusively, and can effect what is displayed on specific devices, such as a touch screen device.

Responsive web design is a method of web design that is focused on providing an optimal user experience on a website. Web designers and developers achieve this by building a website that can re-size, re-display and restructure navigational elements and layouts across multiple devices. To see an example of a responsive website in action see my own.

How Did Responsive Web Design Come About?

The term responsive web design was first coined by Ethan Morcotte in May 2010 article on 'A List Apart'. He explains that responsive web design is not one concept, but actually a culmination of multiple techniques to adjust desktop websites for an optimized mobile experience.

There is, however, an important distinction between mobile websites and responsive websites. The core difference is that they look very different. The second is that mobile website domains are different or on a separate sub-domain; often this will be, whereas the domain remains the same on responsive websites.

Although mobile websites are often cheaper than responsive, the fact that you have two separate domains and essentially two websites has dramatic effects on SEO and user experience. Often the mobile website will not rank as well on search engines, and will offer pared back functionality compared to the desktop website.

Why is Responsive More Popular than Other Mobile Friendly Options?

The long term challenge with native apps and mobile websites is that they do not cater for convergence of software (such as app stores) or developments with device sizes and formats. Unfortunately apps and mobile devices will require costly updates as things change, and as such remain a scalable solution.

Not only this, but whereas it was once OK to have the bare essentials of information on a mobile website, consumer expectations are now much higher - 85% of users think a company's mobile website should be as good or better than their desktop website.

This expectation has led to mobile first approaches to website design. This means websites are being designed for mobile use primarily, and adapted to desktop use as secondary. Responsive design is growing in popularity because it allows for one website to be used for both, resulting in lower costs and better continuity of user experience.

Responsive web design has become the standard for websites that are being designed and built at the moment and no doubt will continue to be over the next year. As responsive web design becomes the rule rather than the exception, mobile first approaches to web design will be sure to grow in popularity.

Responsive web design in practice utilizes multiple different methods and techniques to achieve a mobile optimized user experience on a website. To read more about how responsive websites are built and function, click here to view 'An Introduction to How Responsive Web Design Works'.

Mobile friendly design is now an extremely important part of any website. We have ranked it number eight in our article, "The 11 Essentials of a Successful Web Design".

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