Today there are more ways than ever to access the internet. Anywhere from smartphones to tablets to even gaming consoles, the devices that can access the web has exploded and continues to explode every day. While this additional variety of devices drastically enhances our accessibility, it poses an enormous headache for website designers and programmers.
Creating websites that look the same on all mobile devices is a challenge. That’s why sometimes a website appears a lot different on your home computer than on your mobile devices. Screen resolution is the problem. If you’re reading an article on an iPhone 5s, your phone’s resolution is 1136 x 640 in pixels. So if website designers and programmers want to make their websites look nice, they must conform to that device’s resolution, otherwise the site won’t look right and viewers will probably leave the site.
But the iPhone 5s is just one device. Your home computer has a different resolution, as do other models of everybody else’s mobile phones and tablets. For websites to look nice on each of these devices, website designers and programmers have to create new designs and write code specifically meant for every one of those unique devices. Otherwise, website compatibility disappears. As it’s time-consuming and costly for businesses to constantly create new designs for every new device, it’s essential to have a single solution that will make your website compatible across all of these different platforms. That is the job of responsive web design.
Responsive web design (RWD) is an approach where a website adjusts its design based on the user’s device platform, screen resolution and orientation. In an ideal world, good RWD would be a one-time project. Once the website is designed using the RWD approach, it should work across all devices, from smartphones all the way to desktop computers. Here are the four major highlights and factors you should know about RWD:
1. Fluid Grids
This incorporates the idea of “liquid layouts,” so that designs expand or shrink whenever a user adjusts the size of their web browser’s window. More often, websites are created with “fixed-width layouts,” which are designs that have a fixed number of pixels across and centered on each page. Fluid grids take the classic “liquid” layout to another level. They’re more meticulously designed, at least in terms of proportions, so no matter how large or small a screen is, every one of the components in the layout will resize its widths to fit within the window.
2. Flexible Images
Just as fluid grids are sized in relative units in order for devices to display them properly, flexible images are created the same way, which allows them to stay within the allotted size on the browser’s screen.
3. Media Queries
CSS3 media queries allow pages to use CSS-style rules, which are based on the device that is used to view a site. This lets a webpage content adjust to the size of the device’s screen according to the information that is exchanged between your device and the website.
4. Faster Loading Sites
Properly coded sites that incorporate RWD will load faster because your device just loads what it needs and nothing else. Because a smaller screen requires less content than a larger screen, the pages load faster. This is especially beneficial when accessing content over cellular networks.A good example of an RWD-optimized website is Mashable. Use a desktop web browser and go to Mashable, and using your mouse, go down to the lower right-hand corner and slowly make the window thinner, until it’s the size of a smartphone screen. You will notice that the content and layout will automatically adjust to the new width of your browser because of responsive design. Then while you’re still on your desktop, try doing the same thing at the New York Times website. Notice that when you try to make the window thinner, the layout simply gets cut off as you adjust the browser size. It does not adapt to the size of the browser window and so it’s not RWD-optimized.
The Time is Now
Responsive web design has become a hot topic among site owners recently. Businesses don’t want to have to pick and choose which devices to pursue, they want them all. If you have to make a choice between supporting the Samsung Galaxy S5 or the iPhone 5s, and you wind up designing your site just for the iPhone, then you are going to lose all of your clients who have Samsung devices. And since none of us wants to limit our client base, now is the time to take advantage of responsive web design.
RWD is one of those rare “do it once and forget it” types of opportunities that allows you to cover the spectrum of all existing as well as future devices. This is especially important because mobile browsing will soon surpass desktop browsing entirely. If you want to reach tomorrow’s audience, you need to jump on the RWD bandwagon now so you can tap into the future’s new markets.
Who is RWD Right For?
Responsive web design benefits everyone, including smaller retailers that don’t have the means to create native apps or separate mobile websites. No matter what the size of a business, RWD has advantages for any e-commerce site. When using RWD, retailers and designers have to eliminate the excess, which results in a cleaner layout and a streamlined checkout process for their sites.
Responsive web design is both the present and the future of web browsing. If you haven’t already jumped onboard, the KEY to the future and your website’s success is to get aboard now, just as soon as you can.
Image credits: responsive web design logo by Alexandre Durand, Yvan Roumilhac, Jules Ducloux and diagram by Muhammad Rafizeldi.