What is responsive web design, and do I need it?

Responsive is the latest buzzword in web design. Put simply, a website that is responsive has been built so that its content (text, images etc) adapts automatically according to the size of the screen on which the site is viewed. The primary goal of this is to ensure that the website is as easy to read and navigate as possible for all visitors, whether they’re using a smartphone, tablet or PC.

Non-responsive websites still work on mobile devices, but users are forced to zoom in to be able to read the text and click on menu buttons, making their experience laborious and ultimately off-putting.

The arrival of the mobile device

When mobile devices first appeared on the scene, designers began to produce alternate versions of websites that were designed to deal with this problem. However, this was an imperfect solution for several reasons. First, there is the labour involved in creating and then maintaining 2 seperate sites.

Then there is the fact that the alternate site needs a separate address. Google and other search engines prefer all of your content to be accessed via the same website address. Finally, mobile versions are created to accommodate set screen sizes. This would be fine if all tablets or mobiles had the same dimensions, but there are hundreds of different devices out there, with more appearing all the time.

A Better way

A responsive design is fluid and when built properly, will adapt to literally any screen size. This means they’re forward compatible as well, for when Apple et al release yet new versions of their devices. They also allow all your content to be stored in the same site, accessible at the same address.
responsive web design
Example of responsive design: the Port 80 website homepage on a desktop, tablet and mobile.

Yes but does my website need to be responsive?

It’s no secret that mobile internet usage is exploding. In fact, research now shows that global mobile internet usage has now overtaken desktop for the first time.

Like it or not, mobile devices are the future of the web, and sites that are not optimised for them are missing out. Of course, every business is unique, as is their market segment. It may well be that for your particular line of work, all of your visitors use desktops and not tablets. But the trend is definitely moving away from desktop and towards mobiles, across all industries.

So, sooner or later, not having a responsive site could have a significant impact on the ability of your website to help your business grow.