What Is a Responsive Web Design
Responsive website design is a type of website design—especially for mobile website—, where all site elements can resize, reposition, and reoptimize themselves across different aspect ratio and different screen sizes.
It’s important to differentiate between mobile-responsive and a mobile-friendly site. A site can be mobile-friendly without being mobile responsive, typically achieved by having two separate versions of the site: desktop and mobile. This is also often called an ‘adaptive’ site.
A responsive site, however, is just one website that can—technically— resize itself.
In a responsive web design, the site’s elements are positioned in a relatively fixed structure (it can move around a bit depending on the screen size/aspect ratio, but relatively limited). However, the size and resolution will always fit perfectly depending on the screen resolution.
The concept and application of responsive web design has been around since the early 2000s, although it’s still being improved upon until today.
There are three main benefits of a responsive design:
- Cost-effective, since we only need to publish one site instead of different versions for different devices
- Easier to manage with just a single back-end, no additional work required to display to new devices.
- Easy to implement using templates, for example, various responsive themes for WordPress
How Responsive Web Design Works
Responsive web design utilizes HTML5 to expand media queries. HTML5’s media queries can check various properties like “height” and “width”, among others, enables us to custom-tailor the content according to the device.
With that being said, there are two main characteristics of responsive web designs: flexible grids and flexible boxes. In its most basic form, a website is a series of boxes laid out in a grid.
Let’s use an example to illustrate. Let’s say your website, displayed on a desktop screen consists of a header, a sidebar on the left, and 5 different images positioned like this:
What happens when we display the same site on different devices if it’s a responsive website? The main principle is that the order (1,2,3, etc.) must be maintained, so 3 will always appear next to 2 and 3 is prioritized over 5. When the website appears on a smaller screen, this order is maintained but we can resize the grids and boxes, reposition them, and even change the fonts, colors, and other attributes.
In general, the website will transform like this:
The order of the boxes remain the same, but the size and shape changes. Obviously it’s just an example, and we can use different approaches.
Also, when the screen size is smaller, the fewer content that can be displayed. This is why defining the right order is very important, key information must be prioritized and placed on the top of the page.
Things To Know About Responsive Design
Different Devices Might Require Different Approaches
Responsive web design offers the ability to deliver the same content to anyone on any devices. This is its biggest strength, but can also be a major weakness depending on the audience’s needs.
In some niche, the usage between desktop and mobile sites can be vastly different, and it won’t be possible to cover all these needs with a responsive website. In this case, creating several different sites or a mobile app to cover the mobile user’s intent is probably the better approach.
Responsive Design Won’t Automatically Optimize Mobile Load Speed
Since you are using the same elements between your mobile and desktop version—which is just one single website—, users with mobile devices might find your site slow to load.
While you can hide boxes and grids on the mobile version, the hidden elements will still be loaded with the CSS. So, it’s really important to optimize your website’s speed if you are using a responsive web design.
Slow loading speed will cause a high bounce rate, which will directly affect your SEO rankings. If your site loads more than 3 seconds, 50% of users will bounce.
Not All Browsers Support HTML5
As mentioned, responsive website relies on HTML5 structure linked to CSS styles, and while most browsers nowadays do support HTML5, not all of them do. This is a pretty minor flaw since only older devices and smartphones don’t support HTML5, but this can be a consideration
Responsive Web Design Best Practices
1.More Visuals, Less Texts
The more texts you include in your site, the harder it is to implement a proper responsive web design.
Besides, mobile users are less likely to consume a huge block of texts, so use short sentences, and use visuals to replace texts whenever you can. Use shorter paragraphs (just 2-3 sentences) and add paragraph breaks.
2. Optimize Your CTAs
Less than half of websites all around the world utilize CTA buttons that can be spotted easily in under three seconds. Even worse, there are websites that don’t include CTAs on all their pages—at least the important ones.
Your CTAs must clearly stand out, and don’t forget your interior pages.
3. Simplify and Optimize Navigation
Your website visitor should easily find anything they are looking for as quickly as possible.
With websites, it’s better to stick with standard format, like putting your navigation menu horizontally at the top. Also, the fewer options in the menu, the better.
Find ways to eliminate unnecessary options, and make sure your site is as simple to navigate as possible.
4. Monitor and Optimize Loading Speed
We have briefly discussed the importance of optimizing your loading speed above. Remember that each time you add any new elements (images, videos, etc.), your loading time might increase.
Regularly evaluate your website’s speed, for example, by using Google’s PageSpeed Insights, and make the necessary adjustments to optimize speed at all costs.
5. Run A/B Tests Regularly
Your website design is not a one-off process, but rather a continuous one.
Test all elements of your site, as any as you can, and re-optimize it. Especially run A/B tests on CTA buttons and images.
While responsive web design is certainly an effective—and probably the best—approach to make a mobile-friendly site, it’s not without its flaws. This is why it’s important to implement all the best practices of implementing a responsive web design, and continuously evaluate your design for a better user experience.