What Is Responsive Web Development?

By | December 4, 2012

Responsive web development and design is the idea that the development of a website should actually respond to the environment that a user is in, and the user’s actions. This involves the platform, orientation and screen size.

Ideally, when a user switches devices, the website itself should switch seamlessly, accommodating for the difference in screen resolution, the sizing of images and other computer script issues. Instead of a business being “forced” to create a new design or develop a website or application for every new little gadget that comes out, responsive web development allows a business to create one, totally branded and awesomely cohesive site.

Think about all the different screen sizes there are out there. We’re not talking desktop screen versus laptop screen versus tablet screen versus smartphone screen. If you think in those terms, you’re thinking “Oh, we’ve got to accommodate about 4 different sized screens that our audience may be checking out our website from.” Wrong. Big time wrong.

Think about all the different desktop monitor sizes. Then think about all the different laptop screen sizes. Then think about all the different tablet screen sizes. And think about all those different brands and models of smartphones out there (and there are a lot of them!).  We’re talking multiple screen sizes and multiple browsers. It’s a bit daunting just to think about. And that’s the reality of what you are dealing with. What business has the time and resources to effectively develop and design for all of those viewing alternatives?

 That’s where responsive web development comes into play.

Traditionally, we developed with constraints. We scaled things down. But we knew it wasn’t perfect. How could it be? How could we provide the exact same experience to everyone? We instead had to pick and choose what information we would provide within those constraints. And at times shooting ourselves in the proverbial foot. Because our audience wasn’t always getting what it wanted or needed. So then we came up with two sites – one for the larger screens and one for mobile devices. And that works. The cons are evident, though.

We have to maintain two different codes bases. We still typically compromise on design and content. And let’s face it, a lot of businesses put their mobile sites on the backburner. So it never gets done, or it becomes the red-headed stepchild. (A good reason why it’s important to partner up with a company like Grow Socially that can handle these things for you and make sure you don’t get behind in these things…because if your audience doesn’t find what they want, how they want it, then you’re losing business.)Having dual websites (mobile enhanced and your “regular” website) also waters down the SEO results since you have to split the search engine optimization juice between two sites. Not the worst thing in the world, but something you want to avoid if possible.

 Responsive web development and design is more than just dealing with screen size. It also deals with audience input such as touches, mouse clicks, etc. It takes into account the resolution of the device the audience is using. And it looks at navigation, hierarchy and typography.

The focus is on flexibility and the creation of a site that adapts. Trying to tailor your design to each and every possible scenario is headache-inducing and just plain scary. So using today’s technology, responsive web development takes the problem and works around it, to make sure that your design adjusts to the needs of your audience. Responsive web development consists of a flexible, grid-based layout, CSS3 media inquiries and the use of flexible images and media. Images are “context aware” in that the images are scaled to change to different resolutions when being viewed on larger screens or smaller screens. The goal being that the images look crisp and clear in any type of view. But don’t get too freaked out by the techie words.

It all really boils down to a fluid, flexible environment. It ensures your audience is getting your content, no matter what device they are using. It is absolutely content driven. It’s not a cheap alternative, but it is definitely cost effective when you realize that you won’t lose your audience by sacrificing content (intentionally or not). It also takes a bit more time to build and design, but is well worth the effort. You need to wrap your head around responsive web development because that is where the future is headed as we keep developing various devices, and we want to truly make it a responsive experience for our individual audience members.

Contact Grow Socially today to learn more about responsive web development.

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5 thoughts on “What Is Responsive Web Development?

  1. Brendan Steele

    Good post! I’m glad to see you addressing this subject on here. Anyone who hadn’t already heard about responsive design probably has had experience with it and didn’t know it, and that’s what’s so great about it. Responsive web design (when done right) truly delivers the appropriate layout and content structure to any device, so people get what they’re looking for without having to worry about things like “switch to mobile version” or “view desktop site”.

    The less the user has to be aware of, the better the overall experience.

    1. John Foley Post author

      Couldn’t agree more Brendan, thanks for reading!

      The typical consumer doesn’t need to know the ins and outs of the marketing theory. They need to know that their user experience is as seamless and fluid as possible. You hit the nail right on the head.

  2. Eaton Hubbard

    It all started with Responsive Web Design, an article by Ethan Marcotte on A List Apart. Essentially, the article proposed addressing the ever-changing landscape of devices, browsers, screen sizes and orientations by creating flexible, fluid and adaptive Web sites.

  3. Xavier Romero

    Web development is not just about making a website look the part; web development is what makes a website functional. Web development should always be approached with the user in mind.

  4. John Foley Post author

    Eaton and Xavier – thanks for reading and commenting! Both are right on. We really think of web development as a crucial marketing tool. A website is, more often than not, the first impression users have with your brand. It needs to be functional and inviting.

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