Responsive design for a website is often used in the context of mobile users. Given the fact that more and more users are using mobile devices such as their smartphones and tablets to access the web, both for browsing and otherwise, it is extremely important that website designs become responsive towards all devices and screen sizes.
[See: How can Techmagnate help you to build better responsive website design?]
Some of the advantages that ‘responsive’ designs offer are:
- Increasing your reach to tablet and mobile audiences
- Increase sales and conversion rates
- Consolidate your analytics and reporting
- Increase your visibility in search engines
- Save time and cost on mobile development
- Save time and cost on site management
- Enhance user’s offline browsing experience
Truth be told, responsive design is no longer an option. It’s a need (barring exceptions). But then similar to other web design concepts, it’s not all good about it. It has its share of challenges in designing, implementation and maintenance, which, the manager being unaware of becomes a sheer peril!
Here are a few vitals or best practices that managers and designers should know, before taking the plunge:
1. Take the ascending approach: When we say that 12% of the globe’s web traffic is contributed by mobile users, there are concrete reasons as to why you should be considering the Responsive Web Design (RWD) approach. But it also implies that the mere consideration would not suffice. The ideology is providing the mobile users with the best browsing experience in terms of utility, functionality, transition, aesthetics, etc. Talking the mobile first approach therefore will help you focus and prioritize better, given the mobile screen constraints. Designs when optimized for a small screen ensure only essential content is concentrated on, which is then optimally built to offer faster load times. Once the design for the small screen is developed, the real estate available then, can be use to provide visual appeal and navigational enhancements. Thus, it is all win for you.
2. Scaling site layout: Website designs usually follow the grid layout. However, the responsive design considers a layout that fits as per the user’s screen size. You could follow a systematic procedure of sketching and then prototyping:
Sketching allows for creating rough drafts of the interactive and evolutionary layout ideas, which can be evaluated through discussions and brainstorming to be refined into the final draft. Creating a draft of the layout helps in defining the layout which will be holding the codes and content, making it simpler to focus on the interaction and functionality aspects; saving a lot of time, otherwise wasted in layout mockups. You could use tools like:
Prototyping: Once the layout is decided upon, it’s time for the wireframe model entailing the determination of the markup, navigation, breakpoints and content structure. Prototypes are fast, disposable and help you stay focused. Again, in the context of the responsive web design, it’s recommended you begin with the smaller device design and work your way up. While there are standard frameworks available you could consider the following tools for prototyping:
- Visio (starting $US259)
- OmniGraffle Pro ($US199)
- Axure RP Pro ($US58)
- Pencil (free)
While there are many more paid prototyping and wire framing tools available, my pick is the Axure, typically because its rapid, flexible and offers a wide set of feature rich HTML prototypes and Ajax interactions.
3. Content: Kevin Stakem’s statement on content for responsive designs clearly stated the significance of taking the content-out approach, when he said, “Responsive design is about putting the right content in users’ hands according to the context of their interaction”.
Understanding the user’s needs is of utmost importance when it concerns content management. It has to be accessible and adaptable irrespective of the device its being viewed in. The ideal way to begin is by starting with as compact a content, as possible and then arranging it in the best possible manner. This is what Garett Moon meant when he tweeted, “The web needs more than responsive web design. We also need responsive content management”.
4. Breakpoints: As Tim Caldec states, “Responsive design is not just another technique—it is the beginning of the maturation of a medium and a fundamental shift in the way we think about the web.” The stereotype holds that breakpoints are device centric and should be separately created for different screen sizes. When talking about ‘responsive’ designs, the focus should ideally be on adaptability and flexibility of designs which are possible only when breakpoints are built around the content. The Creative Blog’s article on breakpoints determination gives a clear insight into how breakpoints can be handled for responsive designs.
5. Adaptive Images: Images are another precarious area as depending on the size of the screen and the device that they are being opened on, they have to be resized ad adjusted. The images, hence, need to be workable and flexible. As “Stephen Thomas puts forward in his article, RWD takes a completely different approach: create a single website but let that website recognize and respond to its context”. Sherri Alexander has addressed some of the major issues faced with responsive image deployment in her article Choosing a Responsive Image Solution.
6. Allow compression: In order to make the transition of your pages easier and more fluid across different networks use a program like GZIP for compression of your page resources.
This is very helpful when your site is being accessed via devices that have slow or low bandwidth. Also get rid of unnecessary white spaces and line breaks to make the page light in size.
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Finally, it is important to remember that in order to get the best out of your responsive design the idea should be to create a site that loads and functions quickly across all platforms without glitches. Simplicity, good organization and application of core web design principals come into play here.
Most agencies that offer web design packages in India would be following these best practices. If not, then necessary steps should be taken to do the same in order to get a site that is robust, dynamic and successful.
What are your takes on taking the responsive approach to web designing? Share your thoughts and opinions with us.