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Can your company website be viewed from any device?

Responsive web design

May 2014

It’s been 25 years since the Internet became a part of our everyday lives. Since then, businesses have gone from providing one computer and one phone per employee, to deploying multiple computing devices—desktop and mobile—to their staff. In fact, there are currently more mobile devices on Earth than people, meaning users are accessing the Internet from more places than just the computer on their desk [1].
 
Meanwhile, small and medium-sized businesses may have interesting and robust websites, but they’re most likely built for viewing on a desktop PC or notebook, and not optimized for the mobile lifestyle of today’s worker. This lack of adaptability creates a negative user experience for anyone trying to access those sites from a mobile device. If a company’s web content and usability is important enough for the desktop version, it should be important enough for the mobile version.
 
Global mobile traffic already accounts for 17 percent of all internet traffic—and it’s growing each year [2]. Now is the time to get a grip on designing online content for mobile use, known as responsive web design, and how it can help you  meet the needs of this rapidly changing segment—without breaking your IT budget.
 
How did we get here?
When it first became possible to view the web on our phones, a “mobile website” just meant that we could clumsily pinch and drag our way around the same exact website we’d see on our computer screens. The site itself wasn’t reconfigured in any way to fit the smaller screen. This led to developers creating mobile-only websites, which resulted in its own set of problems (maintaining two separate sets of code, lack of shared search, etc.). Eventually, the mobile and tablet explosion necessitated a more flexible and intelligent solution.
 
Meet responsive web design
The technology itself isn’t particularly new, but how it’s being manipulated to accommodate varying devices is. Different devices have different screen resolutions, sizes and navigation capabilities. This presents an interesting challenge for web developers looking to create a consistent experience across all formats without having to maintain multiple platforms. Fortunately, responsive web design takes all of this into consideration and solves the problems at their root.
 
A site utilizing responsive web design (RWD) essentially adapts the layout to match the viewing environment, whether it’s a handheld device like a smartphone or a desktop computer monitor.
 
The nuts and bolts
Sounds great, doesn’t it? But how does it work? Without getting too technical, RWD, using a combination of JavaScript, HTML5 and CSS, examines the resolution and screen dimension of individual devices and outputs a format that’s optimized for the platform in question. Site navigation can also be adjusted from a mouse-and-keyboard functionality to one that allows the user to interact via the touchscreen of their phone or tablet.
 
Why does it matter?
Responsive web design matters because the stats tell you it does. Mobile is quickly becoming—if it hasn’t already—the new way of working. A site that isn’t optimized for mobile will soon be of no use to your customers.

The PC is far from being obsolete, which is why you can’t rely solely on mobile-only sites or downloadable apps. Until the trends tell us otherwise, sites need to be viewable on multiple platforms without sacrificing any of the experience or overburdening developers.
 
Another thing that works in the PC’s favor is that apps require a commitment from the user that websites don’t. First, they need to be downloaded, and users often need to create new habits to use them every day. However, most users are accustomed to browsing the web as part of their regular routine.
 
The benefits of utilizing responsive web design are clear. If you don’t offer users or customers a good experience on any device they choose, you might lose them. On the other hand, if you give them a consistently good experience on any device, there’s a good chance you’ll retain them as users and possibly even convert them to customers.
 
More to read
Responsive design and 4 steps to consider
Mobile solutions beyond smartphones
New HP SMB devices go for the gold
 
[1] BBC News, Mobiles ‘to outnumber people next year’, says UN agency, May 9, 2013
[2] Statista, Mobile Phones Account for 17% of Global Web Usage, August 20, 201

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