With billions of people using the internet, the desire to create more universally user-friendly experiences continues to grow. A good percentage of users are consumers researching businesses and products to help them make informed decisions. Unsurprisingly, many consumers are browsing these sites on their phones or tablets. But everyone has been to at least a dozen websites that need to be optimized or operate better on their smart devices. And that can be a major turn-off for prospective customers.
To that end, it’s crucial that companies invest in creating responsive websites to secure more leads and improve the overall customer experience. Utilizing responsive web design is a surefire way to have your site looking its best on everything from a cell phone to a 2-in-1 laptop to a traditional desktop. Here’s how it works.
What is Responsive Web Design?
If a website contains mobile-friendly features, media, and content, it’s been developed using responsive web design (RWD). It ensures the user gets the best viewing experience, regardless of how they view the site. It’s become essential for companies with a web presence as technology continues to find new ways to shapeshift.
RWD is most effective when it combines CSS styling, flexible images, and fluid grids. These elements communicate with each other to stretch and fit the width of the user’s browser. Ultimately, RWD aims to provide the best possible UX by custom tailoring the UI on-demand for any given platform or device.
Why Responsive Web Design is So Important
It’s not feasible for businesses to create endless versions of the same website so that they fit neatly with every unique device. But it’s equally not a good idea for businesses to ignore the need for more responsive, user-friendly websites for their mobile-using audience. Over half of all website traffic in the US comes from mobile devices – that’s not a market that anyone can afford to eschew.
RWD can also future-proof your website. Because the styling and design elements are flexible, your site will likely be highly effective even with new and updated technology. It’s much easier to invest in RWD now rather than feeling like you’re constantly playing catch-up every time a new device is released.
But creating with RWD isn’t necessarily a walk in the park. The growing number of web browsers complicates matters, as each browser has a unique way of rendering sites. Even worse, there are plenty of versions of every individual browser still in use, and those will need to be taken into account. Still, investing some time in testing can help you get a good grasp of where your site is and what steps you should take to optimize it.
Adaptive Design vs. Responsive Design
Judging by the definition of RWD, most would assume responsive design would be the same as adaptive design. There are similarities, but how a developer approaches them is much different. RWD adapts the rendering of a site’s single-page version, while adaptive design will deliver several versions of the same page that look entirely different.
Users visiting a site with responsive design will access the original file with their browser on any device, but the CSS will render the page after reading the screen size. Adaptive design sites employ a script that checks for the user’s screen size and then uses the predetermined template for that device. It’s a subtle difference, and both are useful for creating a better UX, but responsive design delivers a more uniform result.
Piecing Together Responsive Web Design
All websites have unique foundations that allow them to function. Developers will manipulate the code or other elements of the websites they work on to get the desired results. Here are some key pieces that come together to produce responsive web design.
HTML and CSS
HTML and CSS are two of the most well-known web development languages. The two often pair up to make a complete webpage interface. HTML is responsible for the structure and content of the page, while CSS dictates how the HTML elements are designed and displayed.
A fluid layout uses dynamic values like percentages rather than pixels. This flexibility is crucial for RWD, as pixels are a static element that won’t account for the size of the display.
Responsive images follow a similar concept to fluid layouts. The CSS code that controls the image will use a percentage rather than a number of pixels. However, HTML code needs to accompany the image to ensure the user doesn’t run into issues with speed. This method tells the code to access an image of a particular size based on the device.
Considerations for Creating Optimal Responsive Web Design
More than anything, the goal for RWD should be a positive user experience. It’s about more than simply converting your website into a mobile-compatible version. Everything from interactions with page elements to how the content looks should be considered.
Note that desktop and mobile users experience websites differently by default. The “less is more” approach is usually your best bet when designing for mobile. Try to distill all necessary information to help the user understand your intent with minimal distraction. Make sure that you also have the primary goal of the page easy to find. For example, if the point of a page is to book or schedule a service, don’t hide the form at the bottom of the page below a bunch of images and text.
At a minimum, you should have three different versions to account for unique browser widths. Pages with 600px, 600-900px, and 900px+ are great jumping-off points. From here, you can choose to scale your content or have the three fixed layouts. Going this route is much simpler than fluid scaling, but recognize that fluid scaling is usually more beneficial and looks the best on most devices.
With a deeper understanding of RWD, you can now implement it on your website to increase traffic and retention. Remember that it’s an ongoing challenge that every designer or site owner is constantly facing, so try to remain vigilant for the sake of the user experience – you’ll always benefit from a design-first philosophy.