Responsive web design is nothing new, but it’s gaining popularity, primarily because of frameworks like Bootstrap and Foundation. Stick with me and I’ll explain why you should think twice before using responsive for your next mobile site/application.
Why The Hype?
First things first, what’s the appeal to using responsive web design over creating a mobile site/application? Responsive design gives you the ability to quickly create a mobile friendly version of your site by using media queries in CSS. Web designers love it because they can provide a decent mobile experience for visitors with very little effort. Responsive design is useful for simple, front facing websites that have minimal content. Most of the responsive sites I come across are either portfolio sites or blogs. As a personal example, we chose to use responsive design for our website because it has minimal content.
Remember when I said you should think twice before using responsive design for your next project? Here’s why: Responsive design is often just a way of “dealing with mobile.” The mobile experience can end up being an afterthought when responsive design starts with the desktop. Instead of treating mobile as a second class citizen, focus on providing a solid mobile experience from the start.
What’s the Goal?
If you are a web designer/developer, you are probably focusing on the desktop experience first and considering the mobile experience second. In your case, responsive design may be a good add-on for you.
However, if you are a mobile designer/developer, you are focusing on optimizing for mobile right from the start. This means that you should be considering all of the available resources that a mobile app (web or native) can take advantage of and figure out how to deliver your content in strategic, creative and intuitive ways. This doesn’t mean that you can’t use responsive, but you should consider the user experience for mobile first.
What Do You Sacrifice?
If you choose to go responsive you will forfeit some of the resources available when using a framework like jQuery mobile. You will lose built-in navigation, UI elements, and dynamic content loading. These resources can greatly improve a mobile user’s experience when you are dealing with dynamic content. A prototyping framework like Codiqa gives you the ability to map out your ideas with all of these elements in mind, keeping the mobile experience at the forefront of every decision you make.
How do you know for sure?
There is no better way to know what experience to deliver than by testing various versions of your site or application. Create simple prototypes (mobile and responsive) and take some time to watch users interact with your site or application. Take notes and document their experience. No detail about the user or their experience is too small. Everything must be tested. Once you have synthesized the user experience data you can make educated decisions about your site or app.
Responsive design is on the rise, but be careful to choose the framework that will offer your users the right mobile experience. Start by asking yourself what your goals are. Are you working on a project with content that would greatly benefit from the mobile elements available in a mobile framework? Or are you simply trying to display static content on a mobile device? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
Jon Hainstock is the co-founder of Tailwind Creative located in Milwaukee, WI. Tailwind Creative is a digital marketing agency that specializes in high quality content including UX/UI design, custom web applications, and video production.