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Responsive design: the future of mobile content?

by Miguel Rivas. Posted on Responsive design- the future of mobile content?

With the demand for convenient access to content and services available anywhere, anytime, and from any device growing at an alarming rate, responsive design and its write-once publish-everywhere multi-platform philosophy is front and centre.

But is responsive design the practical solution that developers and marketers are looking for?

What is responsive design?

With responsive design (guided by HTML5/CSS3 specifications) a developer can code a website or piece of content which adapts or responds to whatever device is being used to access it; i.e. the website will be able to detect the device type trying to access it and deliver the output accordingly.

Crucially it will respond within the constraints of the device to deliver content which relates specifically to the size and orientation of the screen in question.

So, rather than designing multiple custom sites or applications for several different devices, responsive design represents a one-size-fits-all solution.

One of neatest examples of responsive design we’ve seen is the Boston Globe; try resizing your browser and watch the site morph accordingly!

Why does responsive design matter?

Since mobile devices now account for a third to a half of all search traffic, mobile must be placed at the core of your marketing strategy – think mobile-first, not desktop-first.

Responsive design: the future of mobile content?

Traditionally, you could build a website, test it and expect it to perform cross-platform. The introduction of smartphones and tablets, however, have complicated the issue.

Now, with four major desktop browsers, three major smartphone platforms, tablets and a whole range of screen sizes you find yourself wondering how many different solutions you need to build in order to accommodate your audience.

Responsive design allows you to support user access from desktops, mobiles and tablets with one carefully considered solution.

What’s the downside?

Critics of responsive design argue that HTML5 does not represent a panacea for cross-platform development since it takes more time to build and test a responsive website when compared to the common-or-garden static variety.

With responsive design it is also difficult to tease out a performance comparable to that of a native mobile application while iOS devices do not allow varying browser engines and HTML5 to access the camera, vibrate function, text messaging or other native functionality.

The upside?

Admittedly, responsive design is not quite the silver bullet solution. It will take time for HTML5 to overcome a series of technical challenges, but you simply cannot ignore the participation, for instance, of Microsoft in the creation of HTML5 standards or the fact that earlier this year Google officially recommended responsive design as a specific facet of mobile design strategy.

Responsive design has been criticised for its performance on mobile devices (think Facebook), but it does enjoy notable advantages over native applications. For one, web-based HTML5 sites and applications can be easily shared on the web.

HTML5 is also simpler to develop and avoids the need for updates. Users can also switch from mobile to desktop seamlessly and responsive design will carry your project beyond the App Store.

Will responsive design get there in the end?

Irrespective of a few technical hiccups, responsive design has changed the way in which we look at mobile applications and additionally how software can be delivered to users in a multi-channel world.

Better still responsive web design is guided by a principle that digital content should not cost you the earth to produce and deliver.

Right now a mass migration to responsive design has been checked by web browsers and content management systems which are not up-to-speed on HTML5 and CSS3. Eventually that will change, but for that to happen we need the web design/development community to embrace the design philosophy which has guided responsive design this far.

Developers fail with responsive design when they start to design with one specific device or screen size in mind and then modify that vision to fit other screens/devices. Successful responsive design requires you to rethink the entire approach.

Responsive design is, by its very nature, device-agnostic. The sooner the entire developer community embraces its ideals, the sooner responsive design will truly start to drive the future of digital content.

Responsive design, although not the finished article, is a cheaper, faster and more sensible means of developing web applications which are focused on making the experience of accessing content on mobile devices more enjoyable.

The on-going development of best-practice in responsive design is worth keeping a very close eye on if you’re a content marketer.