Moving from "Mobile Friendly" to Responsive Design

We told you that mobile usage was on the rise and we were serious! We’ve been crunching numbers and are finding that a lot of local businesses are seeing a significant increase in the percentage of mobile users visiting their websites.

Throughout the coming weeks we’re going to be highlighting some of these industries to show you that the increase in mobile will have an effect on businesses in every industry. Some of the industries seeing the biggest spike are pretty surprising!

Mobile will be a game changer, and it’s something you need to start thinking about now because this trend presents unique opportunities that require a bit of planning.

First things first – it’s important to distinguish between a website that’s mobile friendly and a website that is responsive.

Mobile friendly basics

Adriel talked earlier about how most of the latest mobile browsers can take a website and make a somewhat successful miniature version of your site – which is good enough for now, but it won’t be forever.

Avoiding Flash, hovers, pop-ups, and gratuitous animation are important basics, but you still have to remember that there just isn’t enough screen real estate on a mobile device to match the usability of your website when viewed on a normal desktop or notebook. Add to that the lack of concentration that most mobile users have when they’re accessing data and suddenly chances of making an error and customer frustration have increased – which is not a good thing.

Responsive design basics

A website that is built responsively is an impressive thing, some people might even call it magic! It doesn’t matter if your website is being viewed on a phone, a tablet or a computer because the site layout automatically adjusts itself as the screen size changes. As the screen gets smaller, the bells and whistles of your website are hidden and what remains: simple navigation, quick load times, and immediate visability to the most important pieces of your webpage. All of which mobile users love.

The graphic below shows how a new website we recently built for ATB Investor Services using responsive design works.  Watch our blog for a more detailed analysis of this project.

How can you stay ahead in the mobile game?

Aside from calling and asking that we build you a responsive website, what can you do to prepare for the mobile onslaught? We have a few suggestions:

Pull out every mobile device you can get your hands on and go through your site, page by page, analyzing it from a mobile customer’s perspective.

  • Is it quick loading, or are you waiting for large images to load?
  • Is it easy to navigate, or did you get frustrated because you couldn’t locate what you wanted?
  • Is it finger friendly? Were you able to easily select links and checkboxes, with few errors?
  • Is it easy to convert? Were you able to buy something or submit a contact form?

Make a few notes about your experience. If you’ve encountered some issues, chances are your mobile customers have as well. This list is where you should start.

Tackling these issues won’t give you a responsive site per say, but looking after them will give you a more mobile friendly site. Providing a more positive experience for mobile users should translate into an increase in conversions for your business.

  • There is a lot of great stuff about responsive design, but don’t forget the downsides:

    I’d definitely agree that building a site that is responsive is far better than doing nothing, but there are always tradeoffs.

    • I think the biggest thing that responsive has going for it is future proofing. If you look at the last generation of mobile websites that were built 4 years ago that were nice for the time, a lot of them look kinda dumpy on today’s high resolution mobile phones and tablets (if the sites ID and redirect tables as mobile). They were built for Palm Treo’s, Blackberries, Nokias, etc and end up scaling up images and text too much on newer devices.

      A responsive design might not look as amazing or be as optimized as a standalone mobile site designed for a 3.5″ iPhone screen, but they’ll give a decent experience for the next few years on tomorrow’s internet enabled TV’s, wristwatches, or neural implants.

      • I can’t wait for neural implants! No more dropping my mobile device.

        In all seriousness, I think you make a great point Adriel. There may be some challenges with responsive web design, like any other form of development, but responsive does provide a lot of solutions that our clients find extremely valuable. Particularly if our clients aren’t keen on developing and maintaining two separate sites.

    • Joshua Lewis

      There are a few good points in there and the main argument that responsive design is not a complete, universal solution to all sites is correct.

      That said, for my first read through I’m seeing a lot of arguments that smell like straw men and sloppy logic. I’ll have to give it a closer reading when I have more time though.

  • There are some decent points in that article, Cory. I would say that many of them are non-issues if you take a mobile first approach.

    Additionally to Sarah’s point, these companies also get to hang around through multiple development cycles, and in a few years when technology has come even further and those sources need to be overhauled, they now have X number of projects to deal with rather than one. Beyond the time it would take to dance through all of these steps, try to imagine the cost.

    In any design approach, it’s up to the designers and developers involved to ensure that the experience of any given site is solid on as many devices as can be tested on. This remains unchanged, no matter the methodology in use.