Mobile-First, Responsive Design Websites: Does This Really Matter?

By Christy Grant

You hear a lot about mobile websites and desktop websites. You may have concerns about how your site appears on tablet screens. You may hear terms like “responsive design” or “HTML5” and wonder what that means for you.

Is this all just something for web geeks and trendy agencies to get excited about and push on people?

There’s a clear answer to that question: No.

Some form of mobile optimization is important for any business today. People expect it; your customers expect it. While it’s not going to be a quick and simple update in many cases, responsive web design is a beautiful way to achieve a mobile-optimized website.

What is responsive web design? Essentially, this means one website that automatically adjusts to display on any screen size in a way that makes viewing, reading, and using your site easy for all of your customers. It’s one site that works for all. And that seems like a tall order!

With consumers using their handsets as the main way to look up information while on the go, mobile local search is expected to exceed desktop search for local information in the next three years, according to a new forecast from BIA/Kelsey.

There are countless variations of smartphones and tablets out there that all fit into the category of mobile devices. How can you possibly design and build a website that works for every one?

Here is one of many great examples. You see the same site as it displays first on desktop, then on a tablet, then on a smartphone. The image sizes change, the title wraps, and the navigation becomes mobile friendly on the smartphone view.

Clean Air Challenge Responsive Design Site
 

The technical part of this is extensive once you get into all the details. However, it is not only manageable but gratifyingly logical and beautiful.

One of the biggest challenges is to work out what your website offers for content. This is the part of responsive web design that a business must take to heart, and the reason is that it will improve the experience for your own customers when they visit your site – even if they visit on a desktop monitor.

When redesigning a site to build as responsive design, the most effective strategy is to take a “mobile-first” approach. These are some things to consider:

  • What do you want a person to do when they visit your site?
    • call you, submit an online form, come to your store, purchase a product, read stories, share content
  • Who is your target audience? Who are the people you most want visiting your site?
  • What are people looking for when they visit your site?
    • your name and logo – for credibility, your address, your phone number, your business hours, your main product, a certain story or topic
  • What content does your target audience need?
  • What content does your target audience not need?
  • What is your website’s voice or personality? What image do you need to convey?

With the sheer size of the desktop monitor, many websites have evolved over time, gaining content and images and stuff that is not needed. Often the navigation is not clear or consistent. Sometimes the most obviously needed information, such as a phone number, is difficult to find. Many times, the space is cluttered simply out of the desire to fill space.

Mobile First Responsive Design Websites 435 Digital

The mobile-first approach to website design and content can be a relief from such a burden. On tablets, and especially on smartphones, space is limited. Download speeds can be limited, as well; sometimes they can be expensive. So when your website is viewed on a mobile device, every bit of content matters. You need to share the most critical, valuable content with anyone visiting your site.

Whether people view your site on a smartphone, a tablet, or even a desktop monitor, they will appreciate you for it. Most importantly, they will have a good feeling about your business because their experience of your website was pleasurable. As a responsive design site, it met them where they were – on any device – and gave them what they needed.

So while the technical details of responsive design and its implementation definitely lies in the realm of web geekiness, the value of responsive design is something truly important for every business.

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  • SteveF

    Responsive design is great, as long as you take under consideration the amount of code you expect mobile users to download via slow 3G networks. We went with an entirely separate code base for the mobile version of our site: m.abercrombiekent.com.

    • Christy Grant

      SteveF:
      Thanks for your comment. It’s true that there are other things to take into consideration when deciding whether responsive design is the best approach for any particular website. Responsive design is a great way to serve the same content in different layouts optimized for various screen widths. You’ve achieved an excellent user experience in your separate mobile site. The critical thing is to have a mobile strategy and to figure out what implementation works best for the users and the business. A future post might expand on this topic!

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