We’re Responsive, Are You?

A modern website should be accessible for all users even if they’re on a mobile device. Nearly half of U.S. adults (46%) own a smartphone and almost nine in ten (87%) use their phones to access the Internet.

Since Internet activities – email, search, social media and QR codes, to name a few – are increasingly happening on mobile devices, it is no surprise that a “mobile development debate” has taken center stage within the web-development community. And, the debate is how to achieve a mobile-friendly website.

Is it more appropriate to develop a mobile website separate from a traditional website? Or, to develop a responsive website that scales based on a user’s screen size?

Unfortunately, this question may not have a clear answer.

The two choices for developing for the mobile web each have benefits and drawbacks. It’s the interactive team’s job to determine the best route based on what the user really wants.

Mobile Site

Jakob Nielson makes a solid case for a separate mobile experience in his Mobile Site vs. Full Site article. However, he neglects to fully address what content should be provided to the user in this separate mobile experience and how this experience should differ from the actual website. Why would you take information away from a user just because he or she is on a different device? The user still came to the website for the same content, right?

Then, of course, there is cost. Developing a completely separate site specifically for mobile (or multiple mobile sites for different devices) can be costly and outside of budgets for many companies. So in comparison let’s see how responsive development stacks up.

Responsive Site

With a responsive website, the challenge is how to display the information from a website in a mobile format. There is still the option of eliminating certain information or scaling back on design elements as the site scales, but the overall goal is to keep the same user experience as the desktop version.

This is the approach we settled on for our current website redesign (go ahead … resize your browser to see how the site responds).

We feel that a responsive design is more manageable – only maintaining content, links and images for one site, rather than two – and it made us really consider what information we present on the website because the same content has to work on all platforms.

While the web community continues the debate, one thing is clear: user experience should guide the answer. It takes great thought and planning no matter which direction is followed. And, with the continuous introduction of new devices, it appears the argument will not be over any time soon.