30 SepResponsive Design – The Big “Meh”


This year’s web design buzz phrase is “responsive design”. Better jump on the bandwagon so you don’t get left behind (not). It all sounds so simple, one code base to drive your web site on all platforms, automatically adjusting for device limitations with no human intervention needed.

Funny how they look at mobile devices as limiting, rather than enhancing, the user experience. A few things to consider when someone tries to sell you on responsive designs:

They are NOT OPTIMIZED for a mobile user experience. They are reformatted versions of the desktop site that do not in any way leverage the capabilities of your smartphone.

They are SLOW. This is a result of the fact that responsive sites download far more data from the desktop representation than is necessary. Very few developers take the time to specify mobile-specific images and other content and precious few actually eliminate all the superfluous geegaw found on most desktop web sites. This TMI mentality means you’ll be waiting longer and scrolling farther to find what you need when you access the site from your smartphone.

They are UGLY. Think life is good because your Weebly or WordPress template gives you a mobile version of your site automatically? Take a look below and you tell me. The first site is what Weebly spits out automatically, the second is a dedicated mobile site. Which do your think will help you attract and engage more customers?

 Responsive example from Weebly  Dedicated example

Can responsive design be done well? Of course it can, but forget about automating it. It takes real humans making real design decisions with an awareness not only of the limitations but the capabilities of the devices they target. Beyond that, mobile sites have a different purpose than desktop sites, so your designer must be able to keep both audiences in mind when designing. And that’s not even taking tablet-specific sites into account. It is very complex and, as a result, very costly, much more so than designing desktop and mobile sites separately.

The tooling landscape is improving, as are design techniques such as “mobile first”, but without the human awareness of the user expectations for each device it remains a sub-optimal solution.

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