2013 was heralded the “year of responsive design,” and in the past few years since, there has been an explosion in the number of sites that are designed responsively. But, for many small-business owners, it may not be clear why responsive design is so important to the website component of a successful online presence. So, what is responsive design, and why should you care?
Words by Chris Taylor
(Holding bachelor’s degrees in Computer Science, English, and Spanish, Chris also earned his PhD in Linguistics (with a focus on interactional sociolinguistics) from Rice University. In addition to his academic pursuits, Chris has been designing and developing for the web since the late ’90s. Working first as a web designer and then PHP developer at Sam Houston State University, Chris freelanced in Houston for nearly a decade before founding Picky About Pixels, where he is both principal and lead web designer)
Simply put, responsive design refers to practices that web designers use to tell web browsers how to display your website, based in large part on the size/dimensions of the device screen on which your visitors are viewing your site. This has grown increasingly important, because more and more users are browsing the internet on different device sizes (whereas five+ years ago a much smaller portion of traffic online was experienced on cell phones and tablets). In light of this significant shift in browsing behavior, designers are increasingly confronted by a design conundrum: How do we best design ONE website so that it displays optimally for different device screen sizes?
Responsive design practices address this problem by including a set of “instructions,” as it were, in your website, that (1) determine what size and orientation (i.e. landscape or portrait) are being used on the viewing device, and (2) instruct the viewing device to render elements of the webpage in the most optimal way for that device size and display orientation. What this means in practice is that web designers must anticipate a variety of possible configurations for the layout of your website, primarily because a non-trivial portion of online traffic now takes place on phones and tablets.
This growing use of portable devices for online browsing alone justifies the use of responsive design for your site: Since you never know how your customers are going to view your site, it’s in your best interests to design a product that looks great no matter what device you’re using to browse. But there are other practical, marketing-driven reasons that your website should utilize responsive design practices.
Recently, for example, Google announced a mobile-friendly move to consider the extent to which websites are designed responsively in determining their “page rank” and relevance for specific key-word combinations used in searches. What this means in practical terms is that, in order to ensure your site appears atop key-word searches on engines such as Google, it’s no longer enough to have a great linking strategy — to succeed in today’s mobile-friendly world, business owners must consider how best to utilize responsive practices for their website. Put plainly, responsive design is no longer an “additional consideration,” but rather an integral component of your prominent online presence. Contact us today to discuss responsive, mobile-first solutions for your website.