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Demystifying the Subject of Responsive Website Design
Andrew Block / Hanley Wood Marketing / September 5, 2013
When it comes to how people access, view and interact with content on the Internet, big changes are afoot.
In her latest Internet Trends Report, tech analyst Mary Meeker announced that 15 percent of all web traffic now comes from mobile devices — up from 10 percent in 2012.
For the first time in history, smartphones are poised to outsell feature phones.
And International Data Corporation predicts that by the end of 2013, tablet sales will exceed that of portable PCs.
In short, consumers are increasingly connecting to the Internet using smaller screens and devices. That means the challenge for brand marketers and corporate communications professionals is to create websites, and web experiences, that work the way you intend them to, no matter the device your site visitors are using.
Many in the technology and marketing world now trumpet “responsive” site design as the answer to the proliferation of web-access devices. In fact, Mashable.com declared 2013 “The Year of Responsive Web Design.” Bloggers and tech journalists are flocking to add momentum to the buzz around “responsive.”
But as the hype grows, it can be hard for communications professionals and teams to cut through the jargon and get a clear picture of what’s going on.
- When your agency or IT team tells you they want to make your site responsive, what precisely does that mean?
- Is a responsive site different from a “reactive” site, or an “adaptive” one?
- Should I automatically design every new site going forward to be responsive?
- Is it more expensive and/or time-consuming to develop a responsive site than a more standard, fixed-layout site?
In this post, I’ll attempt to clarify the fundamental concepts, and interpret the sometimes confusing terminology, currently shaping the conversation around responsive website design.
What is Responsive Design?
“Reactive”, “adaptive”, and “responsive” all mean essentially the same thing. They describe an approach to website design and development intended to produce a site that adapts well to a range of screen types and sizes.
In contrast to fixed-width sites, which were well-accepted and almost universal until a few years ago, responsive sites rearrange themselves to accommodate the size and shape of each user’s screen. Basically, a responsive website can identify the device on which it’s being viewed, and “respond” using a fluid, grid-based layout. Instead of remaining static in relation to one another, site elements — including menus, images, text and widgets — can shuffle and reconfigure as needed, in order to provide a better user experience.