More and more popular websites are adopting a Responsive Web Design (RWD) approach, in which sites resize to fit a device screen. With the influx of tablets and smart TVs, the landscape of screen resolutions is ever growing, and it’s not a surprising that RWD is currently all the rage. Though the concept of formatting content to fit any screen is here to stay, the term “responsive” design as we know it will probably fade away.
Although a step in the right direction, the idea of “responsive” design focuses more on fitting content to various screens, rather than shaping content to fit the value.
In the near future, we will transition from the idea of merely designing responsive websites, to a more holistic concept of designing systems that transfer valuable information between users and digital services. With more screens on the horizon and the proliferating concept of an “Internet of Things,” we’ll instead be designing information and usability with heavier emphasis on context, intent and lifestyle.
For now, our most flexible, connected device is the smartphone. We also have our tablets, laptops and desktops. Each device offers us different benefits and drawbacks, which leads to people using them in different contexts. For example, tablets are designed around media consumption, whereas desktops are better for doing work. Because digital devices are becoming increasingly differentiated and context heavy, we can’t just think “How can we fit a website to a specific screen?” We also have to ask “How can we fit content to provide the most value depending on context?”
Working with clients
When working with a client who wants a responsive website, the hardest part is getting them to develop a set of fundamental goals that drive both the content strategy and user experience. What value will the site provide? What actions should users perform? Should the site merely inform users, or should it convince them to sign up? Are there different goals depending on the context and environment? Will users be browsing while driving or while lounging at home? Through research, it is possible to determine what contexts and environments the website could provide the most value. The more information that can be gathered on fundamental goals, requirements, value opportunities and user context, the more valuable the website will be.
Since responsive sites are still fairly unconventional, getting early buy-in from the client is very important. Use sketches, wireframes and prototypes to show the client both the thinking and the functionality behind the design decisions, whether it’s menus, banners or carousels. The client needs to see how the site will react to touch and how the various screen sizes will affect the visibility of content.
Furthermore, use context in your designs to your advantage. For example, if metrics show that mobile users look for specific content, make that content front and center; don’t make them work for it. The more you make them work, the sooner they will leave to find it somewhere else.
Responsive design is exciting. It’s an important step towards designing for context, environment and lifestyle, rather than for screens. Now that we’ve started to surround ourselves with more technology and more interfaces, we’ll need to start thinking about how to deliver the right information for the right time and the right place and abandon the one size fits all approach.