Being Responsive to User Needs: Mobile Websites and Beyond

11.6.2012 »
Design
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When the first iPhone was introduced in 2007, it started a revolution that has changed the way we see websites. In just a few short years, we’ve gone from a trend toward larger and larger screen sizes and ever-increasing monitor resolution to screens that make the original desktop Mac screen look enormous.

As of this writing, 36% of adults who have smartphones (which is an estimated half of us) now use them as their primary Internet access. 

Don’t believe me? Just take a minute to check the analytics on your website—specifically, the percentage of mobile traffic and how much it’s increased in the past 12 months. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Surprised? While predictions vary, most experts agree mobile access will overtake desktop access by 2014 at the latest.

With a wider audience looking for information on a wider array of screen sizes, the importance of providing your target what they’re looking for no matter how they’re looking can’t be overstated. People come to your website to do something, buy something, or learn something. If it’s still designed to the traditional model of fixed layouts that look great on some screens but not others, you’re cutting an increasing percentage of your audience out of the picturewhich means not only lost opportunity, but also wasted resources at a time few of us can afford to waste them.

Users expect sites to just work—and who can blame them?

So how do we make our sites accessible for all our clients, prospects, and customers?

Enter responsive design, an elegant approach that leverages existing technologies to design and build sites that adjust dynamically to the user’s screen size, regardless of device. In addition to opening your site back up to the full spectrum of users who want to interact with it, it also eliminates the need for multiple versions of your site (desktop version, mobile version, etc.), thereby reducing maintenance costs. It also future-proofs your site to a degree, as you won’t have to implement yet another version or redesign when the next screen size hits the market.

Responsive design has real business value; it also has a significant impact on the site planning and design process.

The planning phase has always established the hierarchy of information to be designed and built, but now, more than ever, we continue to operate with a “mobile first” mentality in our design and planning.

This focus eliminates unnecessary content to fit the constraints of the device and network limitations paving the way to a better user experience.

Our recent relaunch of the Macy’s, Inc., corporate site illustrates this approach.

Macy's Inc. Corporate Website Design

The site caters to an audience of investors as well as those interested in the corporation behind the retail stores. It’s an extremely content-rich site, featuring company histories, press releases, annual and quarterly financial reports. It’s challenging enough to organize the navigation and display of such disparate page types for the widescreen desktop and we took the new site further by making all of the content just as accessible on smaller tablet and phone screens.

In our next post, we’ll examine the challenges of adapting an interactive application to the responsive design paradigm, still providing an optimal user experience while accounting for the limitations of mobile devices.

Have a question or thought about responsive design, or ready to bring your site to life across multiple platforms, open up to full potential traffic, and reduce your site maintenance costs? 

We’d love to hear from you.

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