Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Your guide to mobile responsive design for 2015

Last updated on January 21st, 2015 at 12:46 pm

Businesses large and small are coming to grips with a new reality of digital marketing: more web visits are coming via mobile devices rather than laptops. Due to this trend, mobile commerce sales are predicted to increase by 32.2 percent in 2015, according to eMarketer. As a reaction, marketers have begun migrating their sites to a framework that accommodates smartphones and tablets called Responsive Web Design (RWD).

“The thing we’re seeing with Responsive Design is that it’s being deployed everywhere,” says Nick Angiolillo, senior front-end engineer, Alexander Interactive, a human-centred web design agency. “Now that people do so much on mobile, you’re seeing responsive web apps, ecommerce sites and games.”

Mobile first
In 2015, look for two RWD schools of thought for mobile websites. One emphasizes mobile first, where web designers determine the look and feel for Android, iPhone and iPad devices and then adapt that for desktop.

For example, a B2B site worth exemplifying the best of RWD on mobile is www.misys.com, a company that provides banking software that delivers financial risk management information . “Misys has kept their high-level pages just that,” says Rich Blackwell, creative lead, Metia Group, a digital marketing agency. “They showcase snippets of stories quickly, allowing users to dive deeper if they want.” From a responsive perspective, this strategy allows users to quickly see these topics without having to navigate much. “Let’s face it, when users are on their phones they’re not looking for deep dive content,” Blackwell adds.

However, not all mobile-first designs are mobile optimized. Some look fine on mobile devices but are overbuilt. “The issue is mobile devices download all the code for the desktop version then process additional code to make it responsive,” says Brandon Howard, owner, All My Web Needs, a web design company. “If you develop it the other way around, mobile devices don’t have to process as much information and the site loads faster.”

Master of m.domain?
As tablet-optimized websites take hold, first-generation mobile sites will become obsolete. “Mobile sites, traditionally m.domain.com, were big and widely adopted early on, for example http://holidaymobile.walmart.com/,” says Chase Anderson, online operations director, Clicks and Clients, a web marketing agency.

Responsive Design for this type of architecture is cumbersome and slow to load. “And m.domain solutions can negatively impact user experience and rankings,” Anderson says.

User-experience first
Another RWD school of thought emphasizes user-experience first when looking at website design. Rather than have a bias for mobile or non-mobile, websites are designed to sense how readers access the Internet and supply only elements that optimize the experience. “As the technology has matured, it’s become clear that devices are used in flexible ways, depending on context and environment,” Blackwell says. “Information architects should consider a more complex view of the customer and the best ways to surface content.”

Flash vs. mobile
One web element definitely not working for mobile is Flash. For example, Flash has never functioned properly on iPads due to what Steve Jobs, Apple co-founder and former CEO, described as software that is “too buggy” and could “crash the whole device,” according to Cult of Mac.

Not only is Flash an incompatible mobile web element but also represents a penalty signal for Google. “Flash is not optimized for mobile, and Google will note this for your listing,” says Austin Paley, marketing communications manager, Blue Fountain Media, a digital marketing agency. “It gives users a ‘heads up’ that they may have a poor experience. If you’re using Flash, convert to Responsive Design.”

Adapt or die?
A bookend to RWD, Adaptive Web Design (AWD) automatically determines which design elements (e.g., images, JavaScript) are necessary based on screen size, then resizes or discards unnecessary elements, according to a study by Catchpoint Systems, provider of web and infrastructure monitoring solutions. In contrast, RWD only scales images, resulting in slower load times, according to Catchpoint.

Under AWD, scrollability and load speed are enhanced. “When considering scrollability and load speed, the most important factor—whether using an Adaptive or Responsive approach—is user context,” says Chokdee Rutirasiri, founder and CEO, Story+Structure, a design firm. “In the end, whatever your intent is, users only see one web experience—nothing device-specific.

‘Tailor the user experience’
With AWD, only the content that will be displayed is served. “What you see is what you get vs. RWD which sends you everything,” says Ari Weil, vice president, product marketing, Yottaa, developer of web application optimization software. “Tailor the user experience and eliminate experience gaps brought about by devices and network connections that struggle to download and render content that will not be seen by users anyway.”

Flickr photo via Creative Commons license

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Derek Handova
Derek Handova
Derek Handova is a veteran journalist writing on various B2B vertical beats. He started out as associate editor of Micro Publishing News, a pioneer in coverage of the desktop publishing space and more recently as a freelance writer for Digital Journal, Economy Lead (finance and IR beats) and Intelligent Utility (electrical transmission and distribution beats).


  1. Nice points, Derek. However, not all businesses can immediately adapt into the RWD craze. And I also don’t see why they should quickly jump in. They should first assess their company goals, current standing, and financial resources. RWD should be pursued if it’s going to bring long-term sustainable results. Businesses should be careful when deciding on web design trends.



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