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Responsive Design Part 2: Why do I need responsive website design?

11 Jan 2016

Darren Fisher - Developer and Consultant

Written by
Darren Fisher
Developer and Consultant

Last week we asked what is responsive website design... This week we ask - 'why should you bother with it?' Well there are some intriguing answers to that question that might surprise you.

Responsive website design isn’t just about how cool a site looks on the latest iPhone. When done properly it translates to measurable results, whether that be more traffic, engagement and/or sales. How? Well that’s the interesting part...

A nuclear explosion accompanied by the word: Mobilegeddon - a compound word of Mobile and armageddon.

#Mobilegeddon

Google is the Miss Trunchbull of the internet and it wants to throw your website in the chokey. It wants to punish and penalise your website for breaking rules that you didn’t even know existed yet!

In April 2015 '#mobilegeddon' happened and all of a sudden it meant that responsive website design naysayers had to go around and hoover up their stupid words with their big mouths. Google essentially rolled out a change to their ranking algorithm which punished sites that weren’t optimised for mobile and rewarded those that were. This is the sort of stuff that can make or break businesses.

If Google are taking smartphone and tablet penetration seriously so should you! Statistics show that in 2015, adult users spent 51% of their online time using a mobile compared with 42% on a desktop device. The other 7% accounts for other devices such as watches, tablets, consoles, televisions etc. If you compare this with the 2008 statistics just 12% of online time was spent on a mobile whereas 80% of online time was spent on a desktop device with the remaining 9% again attributed to other devices.

The statistics don’t lie. Your customers are now using their mobile phones more than any other device to research your services or products! And another fact you can’t avoid is that they are also likely using Google as their preferred search engine. 2015 search engine penetration data shows that Google enjoyed 66.44% of all desktop search engine queries, whilst Baidu had only 12.53% and Bing had only 9.82% by comparison. And on mobile and tablet in the same year Google boasted 92.34% of all search engine enquiries compared with Yahoo’s 5.14% and Bing’s 1.84%.

So when Google tells you to jump you don’t even ask how high. If you want free organic traffic from Google searches you just jump.

Two hands forming a heart shape with the fingers over a screen of CSS code.

Love your users and they will love you back

The second argument for why you need responsive website design is because you should love your website's users. When you make things easy for your users they reward you by spending more time on your site. If you’re selling products, then it’s a given that a user who enjoys the experience of visiting your site is more likely to part with their cash. Designers have been banging on about the importance of the right images, design and branding and strong visual communication for years - but in website design it has taken some time to convince both traditional web developers and their clients that your users simply won’t stand for shoddy experiences any more. A website isn't a poster - it's a user interface which requires interaction. And that's why your site needs to respond.

So - we now understand that we have to analyse what users actually do on a website, how they behave, how they interact with the different elements, and that should actually determine how the design should function. A good user interface should not make the user have to think, and should make completing user goals as simple as possible. But the trouble with users is that you never know what they are going to do next. Web design companies spent years refining user experiences all across the web for desktop users and what did users do to thank us? They all went out and bought tiny little hand held devices with internet browsers on them and then complained when our beautiful websites no longer worked on them.

But rather than resist it, web companies had to embrace it, and quickly, as we all realised it just opened up countless new opportunities for you that didn't exist before! Designers now had to find a way to create a new user experience for mobile devices to keep those users coming back for more, and not struggling trying to view these desktop optimised sites. All this old pinch to zoom nonsense is a pain, and pain for your users results in no gain for you. It takes 10 seconds maximum for someone to get frustrated and go to a competitor's site instead. Responsive website design gives us a way to refine the look and feel of a website and to craft an alternate user experience for a device which - let’s face it - couldn’t be further removed from sitting at home in the study with the trusty desktop PC with a keyboard and mouse! If you love your users and treat them well, they will love you back and reward you with traffic, data and sales. Ignoring this won't make it go away. Just your customers.

Social Media Zombies - Image by Steve Cutts - a crowd of zombies wandering aimlessly whilst looking at smart phones.

Everyone is on MyFace and Spacebook

Social media is a work of genius. It's a truly compulsive platform where people create content for free, generating traffic and interaction in a continual loop, growing bigger and bigger. Everyone and their newborn baby is now all over Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest, Instagram, etc. etc. Social media is how people communicate and how they get their information. It is where people are daily. It is how they interact and socialise. It is how they support and protest. And I don’t know if you’ve looked up from your phone lately but if not then just take a look right now, because in case you haven't noticed, it’s like the Walking Dead out there. Seas of people plodding along; their eyes transfixed to the eerie glow of the smart device that might as well be surgically grafted to their grasping hand. And what is it they’re all looking at? Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. And what do they do when they see something they like, or something that makes them laugh, or something that inspires them, or something that outrages them?

They share it... on their mobile… to other people who are glued to their mobiles. And what do you suppose might happen if that content that they are sharing isn’t mobile friendly? (It probably won’t be getting shared in the first place.) But even if it does, when others are then exposed to it down the line they simply won't stick around and try to wrestle with that content if it doesn't just simply work on their mobile device, because that is where we’ve all come to expect. Let's refer back to those statistics above... 51% of time online in 2015 was spent on mobiles - that means in 2015, we finally crossed the Rubicon and now we have to start caring about experiences on mobile devices arguably even more than we do about desktop devices. And that number will keep growing.

So, responsive website design is essential (especially if you’re hoping to be the next viral sensation and have billions of excited users flooding to your site from their mobile phones).

A young child with blonde hair and a summer hat giving a blank expression thumbs up to the camera.

This time we’ve not been naive

Let’s keep this point short and sweet. Technology changes, and it changes quicker than many of us can keep up with. The reason responsive website design is so great is because when it is executed properly it works on all devices, not just whatever the latest screen size is. It deals in screen width queries rather than specific device design. Bad responsive designs are often worked to be pixel perfect for the latest iPad or iPhone screen sizes but as we well know the latest tablets and phones don’t stay the latest for long and before you know it, your website doesn’t perform as expected on the latest devices because there has been too much focus on the device and not the design.

Good responsive website design will just work with any device at any size because it is designed to respond in a certain manner at a certain 'breakpoint' for certain screens. For example, for smaller devices (this could be a watch, a phone or a small tablet) we can design a website around a one column design so that the content flows in a straight stack. This keeps the content easy to read by simply scrolling. Then for larger tablets (or those massive phablet phones that recently came back into fashion), we might have a two column design which allows the content to flow left to right as well as in a stacked manner. For larger devices such as laptops or desktop machines we might increase the columns to four to make better use of the space.

And we can even go beyond that and say that for large iMac screens and 4k resolution monitors we want to have 8 column layouts or maybe increase the widths of the columns and the font sizes. The point is, responsive website design should be agnostic. It should never be focused on trying to look awesome for any one particular device. Great responsive website design will look great on any device because it’s been designed to look fantastic at any given size.

In summary - I think you'll agree that responsive isn't a fad. It's a necessity if you want your website to stay in business and give you maximum return on investment. Don't get left behind! We guarantee that your competitors won't wait for you to catch up.

A calendar app open on an ipad laying on a desk next to an imac, keyboard and mouse.

Join me next week…

So hopefully by now you have a good idea of what responsive website design is and why you need it.

In the last two weeks I’ve touched upon the idea that not all responsive design is actually responsive (i.e. to put it plainly, some supposedly 'responsive' websites are actually rubbish and haven't been programmed properly so aren't really responsive).

That’s what I’ll be discussing in more detail next week in the form of presenting the 7 deadly sins of responsive. So be sure to return for part three of this four part series on responsive design.

If you’ve heard enough and want to start talking to us about your requirements contact us today so that we can help bring real success to your online presence.

Otherwise, I'll see you next week!

Darren Fisher - Designer & Developer

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