Today, there are numerous devices designed to access the web. It’s more important than ever to design digital experiences that are visually appealing and compatible with multiple devices, operating systems, and browsers. It’s undeniable that catering to audiences using multiple devices is good business. It expands your audience, improves your SEO, and reduces web development hours spent on customization.
In 2010, Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google at that time, announced that Google was prioritizing “mobile-first” digital design. Five years later, in 2015, the Mobilegeddon Google algorithm update had a significant effect on search results. The update was meant to boost rankings and organic visibility for websites that were mobile-friendly.
Fortunately, responsive web design has come a long way in the past five years. Making the jump to responsive web development is easier than it has ever been.
Understanding Responsive Web Design
As more gadgets were released on the market, web designers were challenged with creating numerous website versions for new screens and browsers. This resulted in an impossible burden on developers to affordably generate numerous custom-made products for every new device and category of users.
Responsive web design was the answer. Responsive web design is an approach to web development that utilizes a flexible design that can adapt to various platforms, orientations, and screens, whether they be mobile phones or large television screens. Essentially, the purpose of responsive web design is to have one website that is usable across the device landscape.
Responsive web design utilizes cascading style sheets (CSS), among other technologies, to create designs with flexible layouts that can expand and shrink without affecting usability. For example, if the user switches from an Android phone to a Mac laptop, the site will adjust to the changed resolution and capabilities of the browser. Also, responsive web design seeks to create adaptive web products that will recognize user settings and preferences.
Many would argue that responsive web design challenged the development community to completely rethink digital design. Antiquated versions of HTML, the original scripting language that brought color and usability to the WWW, were overly restrictive and inadequate for fully adapting to a new digital world.
Below we discuss four core requirements for responsive web design:
1. Adapting to different screens
With more devices with varying screen resolutions, orientations, and color spectrums, responsive web design practices can aid developers in implementing adaptive design techniques. Increasingly, web sites are tasked with adjusting fluidly between mobile phones and desktop screens. Responsive web design uses fluid design strategies, often with CSS, to enable sites to adjust to both small and large devices. With mobile phones and tablets, websites also need to easily adapt to both a landscape and portrait orientation while maintaining usability.
However, using responsive web design strategies for different screens isn’t limited to adaptive sizing. It should also consider functionality. Obviously, a small smartphone screen would be burdened with overwhelming options. On the other hand, you want easy access to options on a larger screen. Responsive web design not only acclimates to screen size and resolution, but it also adapts the functionality to the device.
2. Flexible images
Image resolution has always been a headache for web designers. If images are optimized too small, their low quality will be obvious on large screens. If images are too large, they’ll significantly slow down a website. Responsive web design uses creative CSS design elements to both limit the required use of images to create visually stunning layouts and to adapt images to varying screen resolutions without increasing load time.
Today, good website usability requires adapting to the capabilities of the device. For example, your website will be accessed via both a touchscreen and a mouse. You shouldn’t assume that touchscreen users will be surfing your digital product on a mobile phone. Increasingly desktop monitors are using touchscreen technology. Responsive website design takes the interface into account to maintain usability.
Usability should always consider accessibility. Not all your users can read tiny text on small screens. Not all your users can see or hear. Usability also takes into account the struggles that segments of your audience will experience trying to consume media on different devices.
Browser and device incompatibility with web technologies has improved over time. Increasingly we can rely on different browsers and operating systems reading code and markup in similar ways. However, incompatibility across preferences, systems, and settings remains a challenge for web developers today. Ensuring your web products will work on different operating system versions and browser applications is essential to reaching the widest audience.
Also, compatibility issues aren’t simply restricted to web products. Mobile and tablet application developers are also tasked with producing versions that can function on different operating systems, restrictions, application stores, and devices.
There is no denying that we are in a new age of digital design. With the increasing functionality of devices and the multitude of options on the market, digital products need to be flexible, fluid, and compatible. If your team isn’t up to date with responsive design, or if you’re considering choosing a new web design partner, make sure they are skilled in designing responsive experiences!