So you have a website (or you don’t?), but is it responsive? I mean, sure – you likely have a contact page that sends a response confirming receipt… but that’s not what I mean.

I’m talking about a true responsive website – a site that was designed to respond to its environment. In essence, a smarter website that removes the guesswork for the visitor, making the site better presented and easier to navigate – regardless of the browser, accessing device, or user level.

Exploring the Responsive Website

Responsive websites really means a smartly designed website that works for every user. This is done through responsive website design – an emerging practice that involves designing websites differently.

The premise of responsive Web design lies in the idea of designing for mobile first – that said, designers are building from the ground up, rather than first designing for a computer screen and then retrofitting the site for various devices. This best practice to first design for a basic mobile device – one that cannot run Java or browser detection – ensures that if the basic device can run the site, than the more sophisticated devices can also run it.

Responsive sites differ from standard sites in how they are laid out. Simple site require designers and developers to build numerous versions of the same site to fit multiple fixed-width layouts; each layout corresponds to a different type of device (for example, the screen width and ratio of a smartphone is different from a tablet which is different from a computer screen… etc.). Responsive sites involve developing the site on multiple fluid layouts which will flex to display the site differently based on smart recognition of the applicable device.

Pros and Cons

As with anything, there is good and bad. In most cases, responsive website design’s benefits will far outweigh the negatives. For example, a responsive site does tend to take more time and investment upfront to build – however, since you won’t need to build out 10 versions of the site and since the existing site will flex to support new media and devices, your investment will have a longer tail.

One common challenge is supporting graphic assets, such as videos and certain types of banners, as these elements are not fluid. That said, many graphics, including static banners do work with the format – and even if you do need to work on resizing some of these elements, you can still save time overall by limiting the amount of time that you spend on small portions of the site, rather than re-optimizing the site in full for the various platforms.

Do I Need a Responsive Website?

If you want to be where your customers are, Yes. Users are most likely accessing your site via a mobile device or tablet rather than a laptop or PC. I do highly recommend developing a responsive site to almost anyone. Responsive websites are the direction in which the industry is headed as a whole and going responsive ensures you are up to date and setting yourself up for what is next. Many of the principles, such as designing for mobile first, are sound regardless of what type of site you choose.

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