Responsive Design on Mobile Devices Not a Panacea

4 minute read
Anthony Myers avatar

Responsive Design on Mobile Devices Not a Panacea
Responsive Web design, despite its buzz worthy status in the design world, is not the right fit for every website. Know the risks, and rewards of this critical design principal before investing in such a tactic.

Banking vs Email

Two good examples of the kinds of things people often do with a mobile device are check emails and bank accounts. Of course, this also entails drafting emails and conducting banking transactions, but the kind of website in question is almost as important what people actually do with it.

For mobile banking, many customers are there to do a quite small number of things, and so many banks don't use a responsive design approach at all. They simply build a more compact mobile version of their websites for people to check balances and maybe transfer some funds.

Doing so means adding a separate URL for those mobile sites, and that does add complexity, but some of those banks likely see that as just the cost of doing mobile business. It's a common practice still, but with the rise of responsive design, more and more companies will no doubt be looking at what it would take to phase out their mobile sites in favor of a build once, responsive approach.

Online banking is popular enough, but way more people are checking emails via mobile devices, and companies like MailChimp and Yesmail have indeed adopted responsive designs. Anyone viewing messages in either of those systems would be viewing the same content as someone on a laptop or desktop, with just a few minor adjustments for doing so on different sized screens.

Nearly 60% of American adults now own smartphones, so there's no doubt the idea of operating and maintaining separate websites for mobile and desktop visitors will increasingly come under scrutiny.

Retrofitting Often Not an Option

Beyond the approach of dedicating mobile sites to those tablet and smartphone users, there is also dynamic serving of Web content. This is not quite responsive design, though this technique does involve telling a webpage that it is being viewed on either desktop or mobile devices. The rest of the magic is done using CSS, so this technique will likely be a popular way for companies to begin moving toward responsive designs.

The real problem would be in attempting to add responsive capabilities to an already built website. It could work, but it could also cause problems like missing buttons and navigation tools. This is why most large websites haven't embraced responsive design yet. Most sites will have to be re-architected to feature responsive design, and that means strategizing about what a website is really for, and focusing the design around that.

Mobile First Designs Leading the Way

Another popular design idea over the last few years has been to conceive a mobile first strategy. Designing websites specifically for mobile devices is a good way to frame the responsive design issue. This is especially helpful considering we are rapidly approaching a time when Internet access is done primarily from mobile devices.

Once we start accessing websites from our mobile devices more than we access them from desktops, we will no doubt begin to see even more companies heavily considering adopting some kind of responsive approach. In the email world, for example, one of the most common complaints is there is too much scrolling, a recent Yesmail report found.

Learning Opportunities

Yesmail compiled its research on mobile email usage into the Mobile Email Design: Marketing Fit for the Small Screen report, and found only about one third of companies were working beyond a basic level of optimizing email for mobile. 

Think Big when it Comes to Email

Whether or not companies opt to try responsive designs for email on mobile devices, one thing they can do to optimize email is to think big. Specifically, use size 14 text or larger, install big buttons for fingers to easily hit, and be sure to include lots of white space to ensure the whole message isn't cluttered, the report found.

Rows of text should be allowed to stack on top of each other, and columns should be made to be able to merge when going from a larger screen size to a smaller one. Furthermore, images (like logos) can be left out of a mobile viewed email to allow for critical text and messages to be displayed.

Some of these design principles were laid out in a recent Yesmail infographic we've provided below. Look it over, and let us know in the comments if you feel email or any other types of content would be much better presented in a responsive format and why.


Lead image credit: Serge Kij  / Flickr (Creative Commons)

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