Designing Responsively

By Stephen Saugestad

There are plenty of great articles about responsive design, so I don’t intend on repeating what’s already out there.

But I’m finding there’s a lack of material geared for people outside of the web industry. And because we’re fielding a lot of questions from our prospects and clients about responsive design, I thought I’d try to provide a quick read explaining responsive design in layman’s terms.

First, a little history.

In my years as a designer, life was simple. Websites were 960 pixels wide and they were built in tables. The web came in one flavor: desktop. Fast forward to recent years with the explosion of mobile devices and tablets, it’s no longer simple. With the sheer number of devices, evolving usage patterns, and the confluence of digital platforms, things aren’t getting easier.

Design has become more complex as we battle to keep up with screen sizes, usage contexts, and interaction types. We now have to consider gestures on touch screens balanced with the traditional ways people interact with the screen. Developers have had to continuously learn new skills, frameworks, and technologies to stay relevant; HTML5, CSS3, Sass, Compass, coding in EM’s and %’s – the list goes on. The web has changed, and it’s not changing back.

Responsive takes more time.

This puts a strain on budgets because we’ve had to rebuild and refine our development process to accommodate responsive design. However, ironically, there is a perception that websites should be cheaper now then they were before due to advances in methods and technology.

The website development process now has to account for many more variables. This means more planning, more design, more development, and more testing. There’s a bit of downward pressure from outsourcing too, but we don’t feel that you can outsource a tailor made product that requires high level strategy, creative, and execution. Not yet anyway.

Most agencies have invested significant time and resources developing their process, and in the last 12 months we – like our peers – have been modifying this process on the fly to accommodate responsive design. We’re in good place now, but let me tell you, it was a veritable shit show when we started down this path about a year and a half ago. On the production side, things were slow as skills and resources were scarce. And on the business side, we were doing a really poor job pricing things. We’ve learned a lot since then, but we’ve had to accept the fact that change has accelerated and that pricing requires flexibility.

Is it worth it?

Right now we’re seeing over 30% of our client’s visitors coming from mobile devices, including tablets. Within 1-2 years, more than half of your visitors will be coming from mobile devices. So you need to accomodate them.

Today, every website built in our studio is built responsively. Supporting mobile devices is an absolute imperative – but keep in mind we’re also designing for devices that don’t exist yet. Responsive design is the closest thing we have to a silver bullet, and the data so far shows that responsive websites improves conversions, revenues, and overall performance. Considering the amount of mobile devices being shipped, and the skyrocketing usage, we say it’s a worthwhile investment.

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