It’s all the buzz at the moment – ‘responsive’ websites… but what is it and is it really necessary?
A responsive website means one that adjusts the page layout based on the size of the screen it is viewed on. In other words, it adjusts how it looks when viewed on a mobile phone, tablet device, desktop or laptop.
According to analysts eMarketer, 73.4 per cent of worldwide Internet users accessed the web from a mobile device in 2013, and that figure will rise to 79.1 per cent in 2014 and 90.1 per cent by 2017 – unquestionably, the last five years have seen a maelstrom of change driven by the rise of touch devices.
But is it a case of “go responsive” or lose large parts of your audience?
“There are a few websites which don't need to be responsive, but most sites that are not already will go that way,” says gardyneHOLT web developer Antony Spalding.
“Where a company is absolutely certain that their website will only ever be accessed by a desktop – perhaps some form of inventory or business process website – then perhaps they do not need to be responsive.
“Many companies out there don’t yet have large audiences viewing their website with mobile devices, but it’s a safe bet to say it will increase and it would be better to future proof your website for that.”
By responsive, however, we do not necessarily mean a website for mobile phones. Even for companies with a desktop-only audience, the huge range of screen sizes and setups mean that the viewing window can differ markedly from one viewer to the next. A responsive site helps ensure that key information is always visible, regardless of the size and shape of the viewing window on the screen.
“For a tablet, we can often get away with reusing the page design of the desktop website by scaling it down, but the functioning of the site needs to be adjusted for a touch screen,” Antony says, “because with touch screens you cannot mouse over things with your fingers.”
The rise of tablets and smartphones has highlighted the effectiveness of the old computer ‘mouse’. Previously, by ‘mousing’ over something you could get pop-ups that explained things better to the viewer. With touchscreens, the lack of ‘mousability’ has to be catered for by restructuring menus to cater for touch.
A mobile site may be a subsection of a main website, or a standalone website that is designed ‘responsively’ to be more easily navigable by people on mobile devices. We may need to make big changes to get a design that is going to work well on a phone, simply because the page is much smaller – perhaps 4 per cent of the screen area!
“The type size and buttons need to be much bigger in proportion to the page size,” says gardyneHOLT web designer Eleanor Parsons. “Content such as images or blocks of text which have great impact on a desktop screen may simply be frustrating to a mobile visitor. The content of the site might need to be completely re-organised to better suit the needs of a visitor who arrives at the website on their mobile phone.”