How I Learned To Love Responsive Web Design And Stop Worrying.

By Nicole Hyman


Feb 2, 2015



I remember those foolish days, not too long ago, when we designed separate websites for multiple platforms. I recall websites built for laptops and desktops. Websites built for tablets. And having another website built as an afterthought for smartphones. Just in case. It was like having a pair of shoes for every occasion.


Those were the good old days. The glory days. Or so I thought.


I’ve learnt a lot since then. Now I can’t get my head around it. Why were we ever so foolish? Did we just like all that extra work? Why didn’t we start doing this sooner?


Responsive web design has made it possible for us to build one web page that works… well, anywhere and everywhere. No more of this managing multiple content streams nonsense. No more coding three times. It has made things easier and has changed my life.



Why I Fell In Love With Responsiveness?


I want to tell you that it was love at first sight. That it was more than a logical choice. That I was so eager and willing to embrace change, it was the only choice. But sadly, this wasn’t that kind of love story.


In the beginning I fought against it. Why fix it if it isn’t broken? That was my thinking. I wasn’t looking for love. I was happy with the way things were. Like a true creature of habit, I had no time for matters of the heart. We did things a certain way because we’d always done them that way.


In the end it was the stats that won my heart. They stopped me dead in my tracks and made me realize how short-sighted I was. That was when I realized I had to make a change or else. And if you’re anything like me, you need to hear this. But brace yourself, it’s not pleasant.


A recent study indicates that 58 percent of American adults have a smartphone and over 40 percent own a tablet. Bottom line: at least 58 percent of Americans are using a mobile device of some sort. And that’s your wake up call. It’s a reminder that mobile matters and that if you’re not thinking mobile, you’re not relevant. Harsh Darwinism, but it’s true.


But at least 99 percent of them are teenagers. Why should I care? That’s what you’re thinking, right? Oh, I’ve been there. This line of thinking will get you nowhere fast. Once again, the stats are sobering.


It seems that while the 18-29 year old group is at the 98 percent rate of cell phone ownership, the low end of the spectrum is the 65+ crowd who still own cell phones at a rate of 74 percent. I’m sorry to break it to you like this, but you can no longer ignore it: we all use mobile.


But it doesn’t end there. It’s estimated that there are five billion cell phone users across the globe. Yes - five billion! But those are just cell phones. The number of smartphones must be smaller, right? Right. There are only one billion. Time for a reality check: If you want to neglect one billion devices, then keep on ignoring responsive web design. A word of warning though, don’t ignore it for long as those one billion are growing - 2 billion are projected by 2015!


To get to the point of why responsive web design is important, let’s look at the activities of these smartphone users. The largest amount of time, 32 percent, is spent playing games. Candy Crush crushes all.


But what about the rest? Well - it seems that 18 percent of the time is spent using web browsers. And this where responsive design comes in. It will keep your web page looking good on that old Samsung Galaxy SII, a Blackberry Curve and even on the latest Apple iPhone.



The Shape Of The Web To Come.


No one can say for sure what the shape of the web will be in the future. But I am pretty confident that there won’t be one consistent size, as it once may have been. There’s no more room for the one-size-fits-all way of thinking.


The Shape Of The Web To Come.


You know, way back when in 1996 when we all basically had the same size monitor. Personally, I work on my 15 inch laptop, read and casually surf on my tablet, and quickly Google things on my smartphone. Those are the ‘shapes’ of my web browsing experiences.


Here’s what I know for sure: what you’ve come to know as a screen will continue to change. And your design needs to be open to that. You can thank smart watches and the prospect of devices like Google Glass for that.


But no need to panic. As the shape of the web continues to change and evolve, responsive design will quickly become your best friend. It will give you control over your work in a way you never imagined. I’m talking about “Pixel-perfect web design”, controlling how each pixel of a web page displays. And this is going to become even more essential as we move forward. Trust me on that.



Here’s Why You Should Consider  A Love Affair With Responsiveness.


Not all love affairs are head over heels romantic. You know what I’m talking about - I’ve spilled my guts. Told you all the details, including the gory stats. But what I failed to mention, is how happy I am. Happy and in love. It’s the best decision I ever made.



I’m telling this because responsive web design might be the answer for you too. It might be just what you’re looking for. Now before you raise those eyebrows, give it a chance. It may surprise you.



1. Web Users Have No Patience - Even Less On Mobile.


We’re living in a world of instant. And I’m not talking about coffee. Oh no. This is the information highway and unless you can provide instant information, there’s no place for you. Again, I have some depressing stats for you.


Google’s Think Insights study on mobile use found that users who either immediately became frustrated with what they found, or couldn’t find what they wanted right away, had a 61 percent chance that they would leave. This drives that dreaded bounce rate, and also sends people to a competitor’s website.


Of even more importance, this study found that those who had a positive mobile experience were 67 percent more likely to purchase a product or service found on that responsive web page. Driving conversions is a key aspect of any web marketing campaign.



2. We’re All Getting More Social When We’re Mobile.


Ever noticed how almost all commuters spend their time glued to their phones? Most of these people aren’t making calls or sending emails. They’re getting social.  


A study by ComScore has shown that 55 percent of social media consumption happens on mobile devices. Everyone loves to share websites over their social media accounts. But if users click through to these sites and find them to be poorly designed for mobile, guess what they’ll do? I can tell you that they won’t stick around.


And then there are those who spend their time reading blogs. Remember that the blog which is incorporated into a website’s overall design also counts as social media. Reading a blog on the bus, the subway, or from the passenger seat is a common occurrence. And for that to be effective, you need responsive web design.


We’re All Getting More Social When We’re Mobile.



3. It Makes The SEO Folks Happy.


Google is the nine thousand pound gorilla in the SEO world. Their preference for responsive web design is part of their overall vision for an accessible web. This is not one of those ‘facts’ whispered among SEO people. Google has actually posted this recommendation on their developers’ blog. So pay attention.


Another reason why SEO magicians prefer it is because they’re lazy. Okay, maybe lazy isn’t the right word. But making the Google bot only crawl one website, instead of multiple ones for desktop and mobile, makes tracking the web that much easier. As the old saying goes: What’s good for the nine thousand pound gorilla, is good for anyone who doesn’t want to get smashed by enormous and powerful fists.



4. Mobile Devices Don’t Have The Speed Of Desktops.


Mobile has come a long way. Anyone who remembers the early days before feature phones will agree with me. But mobile still lags behind. 3G and 4G connections just aren’t as fast as your average laptop or desktop. The advice from Google’s PageSpeed is for all content above the fold to download in under one second and everything else to load in under two seconds. Pages designed strictly for desktops will never load this quickly on a mobile device.


Google’s PageSpeed Insights can show you everything you need to know about how quickly your website loads. Try loading a page designed for desktops on that platform, and then try it on a mobile device. Keeping those times as low as possible and as similar as possible across all devices, should be the goal of every web developer.



5. More Statistics On Mobile Growth.


You’re still not convinced that you should invest in mobile? I am a little surprised. But here it goes: To look specifically at some numbers, it seems that mobile accounts for about 30 percent of all internet activity


The stats get even more interesting when things get local as more than half of all local searches are performed on mobile devices. Why is that? Because when people are out doing shopping, they want to research products, find store locations and get customer reviews before they make purchases.


Having a responsive website that is ready for local mobile users can be the difference between them finding your website on their laptop, and them actually showing up at the store. If they get lost and can’t find their way, if they find another store along the way which has better mobile access, or if they’re standing in a store with poor mobile access, you might as well include signs on the door saying “Go somewhere else to learn more about our products” as part of your non-responsive web design strategy.


More Statistics On Mobile Growth.



6. Device Use Changes Throughout The Day.


A helpful infographic over on Smart Insights shows the average time of day for device use. The general trend is for smartphones in the morning to add some excitement to the morning commute, using PCs throughout the working day (with a swift drop-off at 5pm), and tablets being incredibly popular from 5pm until bed time.


Device Use Changes Throughout The Day.


It seems that browsing from a PC is only favored from the hours of 9am - 5pm. The rest of the day belongs to mobile devices! Even during those hours where PCs are favored, how many will actually be spent doing things besides work? Hopefully very few – get back to work.



A Responsive Web Design Case Study.


Google conducted a case study with global sports apparel leader Adidas. This study looked exclusively at the benefits of mobile use for local search, conversions, and return on investment. Their goals were to drive sales at Adidas stores, find a value for in-store conversions that occur due to mobile web initiatives and prove that mobile adds value to a business.


The study found that there was a 20 percent conversion rate from the mobile store locator, to people walking in the door. Think about all the money spent on commercials, athlete endorsements and other marketing efforts that get people to walk through those same doors. Do you think they get a 20 percent conversion rate from even their best commercial? I really, really doubt that.


The big statistic is always return on investment, ROI. The average ROI on a TV commercial is around 132 percent. That’s a pretty decent little number. It makes for a tidy profit that anyone would be pleased with.


But 132 percent is a joke next to the findings in this study. Mobile gave Adidas a 680 percent increase in ROI. Numbers like that are the astronomical, exponential and astonishing facts that drive responsive web design and the mobile market.


If you don’t want in on that, then please, by all means, continue designing web pages that only look good on a 21” screen. But if you ask me, you’re losing out.



How I Learnt To Stop Worrying About Responsiveness. And You Can Too!


I got into the mobile world late. I bought my first iPad two years ago, and my first smartphone a year ago. I realize now that without my mobile devices I never would have bought my car or my last collection of books.


Why? Because I used my mobile device to locate the stores where I purchased these things while I was out. If those retailers hadn’t planned ahead and made a responsive website, I probably wouldn’t have gone at all. Or maybe, I would have just stopped at whatever competitor was closer.


How I Learnt To Stop Worrying About Responsiveness. And You Can Too! 

Another practical consideration is a Friday night out on the town with my husband. We’ll get the idea that we have to stop by the hot new restaurant which is, as is the case with popular new places, usually quite full. We’ll then pull out our phones and see what else is around. If a website is slow to load, or looks terrible on our iPhones, guess what we do? We move on to the next one! As simple as that.


These are the types of practical, everyday decisions that people are making. If a website doesn’t give you information right away, especially while you’re standing out on the street, why would anyone wait for it? A website that employs responsive web design practices will accommodate for this and give users what they want.


To all the designers out there reading this, isn’t giving web users what they want, as immediately as possible, your job? Or are you too caught up in designing some pointless flash intro that they will ignore as they look for the skip intro button?

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