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8 March 2012
Responsive design: key points for corporate communicators
Senior Consultant | Read all Martina's posts
You may have heard some talk about responsive design and wondered whether it’s just another fad or something more significant. Well, it’s important – and we reckon it will be coming to a corporate site near you in the not-too-distant future.
So what's all the fuss about? Responsive design will bring benefits both for you and your site users. People will be able to access all your site content, whether they're using a smartphone, a tablet or desktop computer. Perhaps, if we look into the future for a moment, even if they are using a device which doesn't exist today.
Here’s a little more on why responsive design is important and some of the likely practical implications for you when overseeing a new site build.
First things first. What is responsive design?
Responsive design is platform-agnostic – it is design that responds to how you are viewing it. So a responsive design will alter, depending on whether you’re looking at it on your desktop or on your smartphone (and, indeed, on any other device). It will also change as you resize the browser on your desktop.
That’s the simple answer – there’s a lot going on under the bonnet.
The best way to see what it’s about is to have a little play. Try these links and see what happens when you resize your browser:
It’s still early days for responsive design; for the moment, you certainly won’t find it implemented on large corporate web sites. But it’s important and, in the long term, it could be coming to corporate sites too.
Interesting enough – but why is it important?
Once, you just had to worry about how your web site looked on the desktop (though it was never as straightforward as that – what about all those different screen sizes?).
Now there’s mobile (and what exactly do you mean by mobile? Your iphone? How about all the other phones?) The ipad. And other tablets. What about your TV?
It just isn’t feasible to build pixel-perfect custom designs for every option that’s out there. That’s to say nothing of all the platforms that haven’t been developed yet.
Look at the Boston Globe site to see responsive design in action
But people on mobiles just want the 'on the go' content, right?
Context is a tricky one (and a hot topic) though made slightly less so if you have reliable research about what your site users are actually doing. While it’s traditionally been thought that people accessing corporate sites from mobile devices are only interested in news, calendar dates, contacts and share price, it’s increasingly unsafe to make assumptions about what people want to see simply from the device they are using.
In the US, 25% of people who use a mobile browser use it as their only browser; for the UK, the figure’s 23%.1
This proliferation of channels is one of the greatest challenges for online corporate communications. Responsive design is one of the ways in which we can look to meet it.
Well, that sounds great – something for you designers and developers to get on with.
Designers and developers have been doing most of the work on responsive design but they’re not the only ones who should be taking an interest.
Responsive design is *not* technology ... It is platform-agnostic content and user experience. It's a way of thinking. (Cleve Gibbon, speaking at CSA12)
This is also about deciding how content should be prioritised for your site users (and, of course, you should have the right content in the first place). And, yes, it’s something we will be able to help you with. But it also means that there may be a couple of new issues for you, as site owner, to get to grips with in the not-so-distant future.
So what difference will responsive design make to me when I’m overseeing a web site build?
A couple of things:
How you review your site designs
You’re probably used to reviewing a new site design on paper. This way of doing things may well change.
For responsive designs, a design on paper will be misleading, it captures one state only. Looking at designs in the browser is likely to give you a better idea of how a responsive site will behave. Which leads us to...
How you think about your site content
If you won’t be able to sign off an exact design, what you will be able to do is confirm the principles on which your content will be responsive.
Responsive design depends on prioritising content before the design starts. What is most important to your site users?
Title, introduction, call to action, related links, main copy, image, navigation – all should be given a place in the hierarchy. We can help you prioritise your content but it’s important to realise that these decisions should reflect the goals for your site and are going to underpin how your site behaves.
When is this going to happen?
It’s going to take a while before responsive design filters through to large corporate web sites. But it’s nothing to be scared of. Responsive design will help make corporate web sites future friendly AND more user friendly. It shouldn't matter what people are using to view your site, they should be still be able to access all your content.
More to read:
- Responsive web design (Ethan Marcotte / A list apart)
- Content strategy and responsive design (Brain Traffic)
Responsive-ready content (Sara Wachter-Boettcher)
And some more examples:
Any statements made in these blog posts are the views of the blogger and do not necessarily represent the views of The Group.