The philosophy of responsive design represents the future path of multi-touchpoint Web design, according to a new report from Forrester. “Understanding Responsive Design” advises that while the road to responsive design contains its share of bumps, the destination is worth the effort.

Philosophy, Not Technology

Forrester defines responsive design as “an approach to Web development that forces user experience developers to design and optimize from the outset for all touchpoints they need to support, regardless of screen size or device orientation."

Technology enables responsive design, but the execution of a responsive design site requires a new paradigm in the approach to development, rather than the simple introduction of new technology.

Executed properly, responsive design allows developers to provide optimized Web experiences from a single HTML5 code base. A new feature in HTML5 and CSS3 known as “media queries” allows capable browsers to detect the size of the user’s screen.

Responsive Design -- The Business Case

Forrester says that the two most common approaches to mobile site development, outsourcing or the creation of a standalone mobile group, both require additional overhead and costs to support the Web on mobile devices. And with more than 112 million US consumers expected to own tablets by 2016, companies now have to also focus on developing sites optimized for tablet viewing.

Responsive design simplifies these challenges by offering a single code base and URL for all Web experiences. This also makes the process of detecting and fixing problems and making updates much easier and quicker, so the time and money spent on site development and maintenance is significantly reduced.

In addition, the usage of a single URL improves site analytics and SEO performance, and sites can easily be resized for new viewing formats. Furthermore, responsive design brings all site development players together on one team, eliminating departmental silos and also reducing redundancy of tasks and headcount. 

Learning Opportunities

Obstacles Exist

Of course, some obstacles need to be overcome in order to properly perform responsive design. These include longer time required to develop individual responsive pages, the need for code workarounds to account for older legacy browsers, the need for live device testing, non-compatibility with many existing e-commerce and CMS platforms, the need for a front-end rewrite, the need for a phased development approach in large enterprises, and the extra effort required to provide unique experiences for each form factor.

Determining if Responsive Design is Right for You

Responsive design is not always the best option for all Web development scenarios. Forrester makes the following recommendations for companies considering launching a responsive design program:

  • Consider the perils of early adoption -- Companies launching responsive design efforts now are taking the role of “early adopters” whose trial and error will make the efforts of later adopters easier. Many companies may find advantage in waiting for code libraries, developer tools and best practices to emerge from the efforts of early adopters.
  • Recognize you will probably need agency help -- Responsive design is an emerging science that requires a completely different and focused approach to web development. Forrester advises companies that make the decision to invest in a responsive site should seek outside expertise from an interactive Web agency that has already honed these skills and can demonstrate an existing portfolio of responsive sites they have developed. This does not necessarily mean outsourcing the entire project.
  • You still need apps -- Responsive design does negate the need for apps, nor will it play any significant role in simplifying the development of apps. Companies may be able to leverage responsive sites to render content inside hybrid apps, but in some cases native apps will be necessary to provide device-specific functionality. 

Webinar Advises Mobile Shouldn’t Always Be First

CMSWire hosted a webinar, "Optimizing Mobile Customer Experience with Responsive Design," on July 11. Although responsive design is often viewed as a way of optimizing traditional Web content for mobile devices, webinar presenter Giovanni Calabro, VP of Design, Siteworx, recommended companies should first identify which devices drive positive results.

This may mean that some companies should not adopt a “mobile first” strategy. Instead, Calabro said the best advice is to analyze and set device/channel priorities, think about your content strategy up front and organize a collaborative, integrated team that can work together on delivering intelligent customer experiences.