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The Web in 2016: Long live responsive design

What is responsive web design?

Related: How To Create Concrete5 Theme

As the name suggests, Responsive Web Design responds to the user’s viewport, device, or platform. Essentially, it’s a design that can attractively acclimate to any screen resolution.

Why continue with responsive web design?

The diversity in devices used to browse websites is only growing larger, and it has become an expectation that users take for granted when exploring their preferred destinations on the web. Your design must respond to the user’s viewport if you want to deliver even a baseline acceptable experience.

More to the point, RWD is the preferred method of making a website more accessible by virtually everyone:

  • Users don’t like dealing with a redirect, and downloading a dedicated app is a hard sell when they’re dealing with limited mobile disk space.
  • Multiple websites for a single domain become costly to maintain, and difficult to update as well. When you add an extra code base, you also add more maintenance cost in the long-run. You’ll either need to deal with twice the work or use a server-side solution, both of which are more expensive than a responsive or adaptive site.

A well implemented responsive design, on the other hand, addresses all of those concerns. If a single set of images, grids, and the like are automatically resized to fit the user’s view port, then the UX is by definition more consistent than switching between two separate sites. And if you only have a single code base to maintain and update, it’s not going to cost as much money nor take as much time.

The advantages of RWD are immediate, and well documented:

  • Increases your audience, sales and conversion rates. According to a study by the Aberdeen Group, RWD sites achieve 11 percent more conversions than non-responsive sites on average.
  • Forces you to prioritize content for each viewport (especially smaller screens), which inevitably makes for a stronger site.
  • Truly future-proof since you don’t need to obsess over every new device screen size
  • Improves your SEO: Google officially recommends responsive sites.
  • Gives users uniform quality — no one wants to be a second-class citizen.
  • Enables you to be detail oriented, which is great because (if you’re a good designer) you care about details.

The old way is fading

M-dots, or separate versions of a site for mobile users, are a dying practice.

M-dot sites like “m.samplesite.com” vs. “www.samplesite.com” provide a different browsing experience for users on different devices. When the goal is consistency, it becomes easy to see why this isn’t the ideal solution. Still nothing is quite as clear as statistical data, and there’s plenty of evidence  for the decline of M-dots.

  • Pure Oxygen Labs reports

    that last year M-dot sites fell 20 percent,

     from 79 percent in 2013 to 59 percent in 2014, while responsive and adaptive (dynamic serving) sites rose 37 percent collectively.

  • Users visit the full site anyway —

    Web Performance Today’s research showed that about a third (35 percent) of users choose to go to the full site if given the option.

  • Users spend more time on the full site —

    The same research states 5.5 times longer. They also calculated that 79 percent of revenue from mobile sales came from users on the full site.

  • SEO/Google trouble —

    According to Google’s own guidelines, responsive and adaptive sites will likely rank better. Not using an M-dot is an automatic boost in SEO.

  • Redirect time —

    While M-dot sites load faster in theory, the extra time of redirecting from your full site to the M-dot (unless the user types the M-dot’s URL) is unnecessary. Alongside the other drawbacks, is it worth it?

  • Mobile devices aren’t a single screen size

    It’s ironic that what was once the greatest strength of M-dot sites is now its greatest weakness. M-dot sites are designed for a specific screen size, but mobile devices range from 320×240 for some smartphones up to 768×1024 (and beyond) for tablets. It just doesn’t make sense to serve the same layout to all those screens.   

Bottom line: M-dot sites are a bad idea because they cost more and create inconsistent experiences. As we roll into 2016, you’ll see them continue to drop off the radar as responsive and adaptive design take over.

There are numerous examples of sites who make the switch to RWD being exponentially more successful after a relaunch.