What is Responsive Web Design?

blank screens on desktop and mobile devices

Since 2011, time spent on mobile devices and tablets has nearly tripled and may soon surpass desktop usage. In this series of three segments, we will take an in-depth look at one answer to this statistic: responsive web design. What it is, how to approach it, and where branding comes in.

When consumers visit the web from their smartphones and tablets, they expect a rich, complete experience comparable to what they see on their desktops. A site that isn’t mobile-friendly will quickly lose its mobile visitor. Today, optimizing a site for small screens has become essential, and responsive web design is a compelling solution.

Responsive web design is a technique that caters the layout of a web site to the screen size and device type. So a single website, whether viewed on a desktop, laptop, netbook, tablet, or smartphone, can adapt to the screen size and capabilities. It’s a challenging goal: provide a quality web experience to all visitors, wherever they are and whatever their devices. Other solutions exist, such as developing a dedicated mobile site or native application. But building a website for a desktop, then developing an app for the iPhone and another for Android, and optimizing a mobile site for this smartphone and that tablet – it’s getting impossible to keep up as technology changes.

Designing a site responsively, though, means that only one set of code and content needs to be maintained, and this single set of code and content is adaptable to myriad devices and various interface types (such as a touchscreen or a desktop using a mouse).

Because of its range of adaptability, responsive web design is also more future-proof than other solutions. Consumer technology is constantly – and swiftly – changing: it seems that every day, there’s a new device or a new browser, and a site is expected to work seamlessly on each one. If a site doesn’t work well on a visitor’s device or browser, they will quickly move on. But a responsive site continues to adapt, whether the screen is tiny or huge, whether it reacts to touch or clicks, whether it’s held upright or horizontally. So while it’s impossible to predict the trajectory of technology, a site designed responsively will be able to keep up with changing devices and varying screen sizes.

In the next two segments, we’ll delve deeper into the process of developing a responsive site, as well as the importance of branding in responsive web design.

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