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Responsive Website Design – Best Practices & Practical Tips for Putting the Mobile Web to Work for You

Responsive Website Design

What is Responsive Design?

Responsive design represents a fundamental shift in how websites are built. Historically, accessing a website via a mobile device meant encountering a website designed for viewing on a desktop or laptop monitor. This is still the case for some websites, and unfortunately, this means mobile device users have to scroll, resize, or pan to find what they are looking for. This leads to a frustrating experience for users and a loss of customers for businesses.

As web browsing on mobile devices increased in popularity, some companies solved the mobile viewing problem by creating an appropriately scaled mobile version of their main site. However, mobile sites require an alternate URL, which diminishes a site's SEO, and involves separate maintenance and updates, which can be costly and time-consuming. Furthermore, there has been greater variation in screen size and resolution since the proliferation of tablets and larger desktop monitors; this means that any company following this model today would have to design three or four customized versions of their website to capture every potential customer.

Responsive web design solves these problems. Today, people use their mobile devices more than – traditional desktop and laptop computers for browsing and purchasing online. Responsive websites have a single URL and are optimized for viewing across all formats. While traditional websites present site content "statically" in terms of set pixels, responsive websites map site content "dynamically" using flexible, proportion-based grids and images. A responsive website will automatically resize, hide, or reorder its elements – including text, images, and toolbars -- to fit on any screen, making it easy for customers to navigate or view a website in any context. Responsive websites also adapt to the shifting horizontal/vertical display orientation of tablets and phones.

Responsive design comes with benefits beyond mobile accessibility. Because screen sizes continue to change, responsive design will continue to serve your website in the future. Responsive design also positively impacts a website's SEO, as Google favors responsive websites' single URL and mobile friendliness.

What is a Responsive Theme?

Responsive web design patterns are numerous, but there are some common responsive themes. Responsive themes are layouts that provide a template for a responsive website so that you do not need to code one from scratch. A responsive theme offers a fluid grid system and flexible foundation, providing you with some options regarding how elements can be arranged in relation to one another. Responsive themes offer a general scheme for your website, but allow you to customize with your information, corporate logo, and other personalized content.

Breakpoints

While a responsive website will proportionately scale text and images, there are also certain dimensions – optimally correlated with common screen sizes - where it makes sense to rearrange these elements. These instances of re-organization are referred to as "breakpoints" and are encoded to tell the website to change at certain pixel points where shifting content would optimize the user experience for a particular cluster of similarly-sized devices. At these set breakpoints, the website will snap to a new layout. For instance, a breakpoint might involve removing navigation sidebars from a horizontal layout intended for a desktop monitor and placing them on the top or bottom of a vertical layout designed for mobile browsing. Whatever your theme, you can use breakpoints to reshuffle content in an ideal way.

How to Design with a Mobile First Approach

Before the dominance of mobile browsing, web design started with the creation of a website for traditional platforms, which was then adapted for mobile devices. However, since phones and tablets have overtaken the traditional computer as a means of online browsing and shopping, web designers and companies might consider taking a "mobile first" approach. This approach simply means that the web designer starts with the creation of a web site optimized for mobile devices. Then, the designer incrementally scales up the mobile layout for larger devices.

In addition to optimizing user experience for mobile browsing, the mobile first approach to web design has additional benefits. Designing in a minimal, single-column form forces you to think about what is most important for your customer. This insight will ultimately result in a better desktop site. The simple site design will also benefit a company's SEO, as faster load times increase a site's Google rankings.

User Behavior Differences

Another benefit of responsive design is the ability to target all demographics. Some consumers prefer to browse, research, and purchase using a certain device, depending on age, work habits, and other factors. Using responsive design ensures that you target all of these different user groups.

Other customers are part of an "always on" demographic that uses various devices throughout the day. These users may research a product on a tablet, request further information on a phone browser, and complete a transaction on a laptop. Responsive design ensures that these users can move conveniently from one device to another.

Clearly, responsive web design has become the new standard for web design and will remain so in the future. If you would like to implement a responsive website to help grow your business and meet your business goals, contact DAS Group today!