What do you mean by responsive design?

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Paul Boag Posted by: Paul Boag On Wednesday, 24th July, 2013

What do you mean by responsive design?

There is an expectation that websites should be responsive and work across devices. However, what does that actually mean and do we all have the same expectations?

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This post was first written by me for econsultancy.com

Most of the invitations to tender we receive these days request that the site we build will be responsive across multiple devices. In fact, this request is becoming so common that we now build websites using responsive design by default.

It is great to see that our clients are aware of responsive design and recognise that it is a good solution to the plethora of devices people used to access their websites.

Unfortunately, making a website responsive is not black and white. People’s interpretation of what a responsive website is may be different.

It is much like buying a car. Not all cars are alike, even though they have some common characteristics. Neither are all responsive websites equal. At its most basic level a responsive website responds to the viewport of the device improving readability, but there are many other details that can be interpreted differently.

For example when you ask for a responsive website (or offer to build one for a client) are you anticipating:

  • Optimising images for different devices and connection speeds.
  • Changing navigational position to account for how people hold a mobile device.
  • Restyling links and buttons to be more touch friendly.
  • Ensuring elements like video or data tables resize properly rather than just hiding them.
  • Dynamically resizing fonts to work better at different screen resolutions.
  • Providing retina versions of graphics.

The list could go on.

So when we say we want or will build a responsive website, what do we mean? We need to clearly define our expectations or before long this is going to lead to disputes between client and supplier.

The problem is that all of these different facets of responsive design take additional time. To create a basic responsive site is relatively cheap. To create a good responsive site can be time consuming and therefore expensive.

There is no way we would promise to build a client ‘a website’ without defining specifics. Why then are we happy to promise to build a ‘responsive site’ while leaving the exact nature of what that means rather vague?

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