Over the last couple of years, web design has been undergoing a bit of a shift. Previously, flashy designs that took advantage of a computer’s capabilities along with increasingly fast Internet speeds dominated the web. The recent trends have been towards cleaner and more straightforward web design that also happens to be responsive.
Major sites like Smashing Magazine and even the BBC have switched toward responsive design. Now, some are predicting that responsive web design is going to not only dominate the web in terms of popularity, but also as a requirement for a positive user experience.
What are the Benefits to Responsive Design?
To put it simply, a responsive design is one that will automatically adjust to different screen sizes. The aim is to better present a site’s content to mobile users without the need for extra plugins and mobile specific theme designs. Considering that mobile internet use is predicted to surpass desktop and laptop usage by 2014, it makes sense that responsive design would be rising in popularity.
Of course, the benefits of not needing extra plugins or separate theme designs, as well as improving user experience are only part of the benefit. Issues like site structure, improved indexing by search engines compared to sites with both a desktop and mobile version, and improved user analytics are all added benefits of a responsive design.
What are the Drawbacks?
The detractors tend to look at one major point: the need for more code. A responsive design is not implemented by stripping the php coding and CSS styling of a website. Rather, additional lines are required to enable the proper automatic adjustments.
While the average desktop or laptop computer may show no difference when accessing a website that has been coded with a responsive design, mobile devices may slow down a bit. So, even though the site may remain clean and easy to navigate and use for a mobile user, the performance may suffer in terms of speed compared to mobile themes or a standard theme made to load in its standard format, regardless of the device used for access.
Also, though it is not performance based, the added expense of adding code for a responsive design can be a deterrent to some webmasters with a limited design budget.
Why Responsive Websites and Not Apps
Some question whether websites as we know them will lose their importance with the rise of mobile web access and applications. That is a difficult question to answer, but some do believe that apps will supplant websites for web access, e-commerce and general community engagement.
The truth likely lies somewhere in the middle. Apps do not need the internet to run, can often be faster than a website, even with a responsive design, and can also help to improve a business’ brand visibility. It would make sense for businesses to push their mobile applications as much as possible.
Though apps have their advantages, there are still drawbacks. Issues like security, a potential loss of search engine visibility since application content is not indexed on the web, and difficulty making contact with a business are all potentially problematic.
Why Not Both?
The safe and likely prediction is that responsive web design will likely become the norm in the future. Websites with a serious presence will have no choice but to improve user experience with a more mobile friendly design.
Although there are detractors who will always believe that responsive web design will fade out quickly, it is more likely to change and improve in order to offer a better mobile internet experience. Once companies recognize the benefits, then we will likely see the web dominated by responsive web design.