Delivering a quality experience no matter the platform is proving to impact everyone: from designers to consumers to business owners. When a visitor comes to your website, they probably already know what they want out of it. If within three seconds they have difficulty figuring out how to get there…sadly, it might be high time to go back to the drawing board.

I’m sure a number of people reading this article have experienced having to pinch and twist to access links on a mobile device, or even read font. I personally find the experience to be, as strong as the word is, harrowing. This is due to the absence of responsive design, and in the worst of cases, a result poor design. Other considerations include making links large, and able to be touched by the user, and it goes on an on. The great thing that has designers breathing a sigh of relief, is the advent of responsive web design. Long gone are the days for building with one device in mind, or custom for each mobile platform.

Responsive web design is by and large, the mecca for mobile – making user experience goals achievable on all fronts. In a bit of history, the term responsive web design was coined back in 2010 by Ethan Marcotte. Since then, the proliferation of tablets, smartphones, connected TVs, and others created a sense that responsive design is here to stay. The industry is decidedly moving full-steam ahead to create highly optimized viewing experiences.

First, it helps to understand a few of the various features of responsive design:

  • A single site and design framework
  • One build for multiple experiences
  • Adaptation depending on browser size (The “Responsive” Part)

Competitive Edge

A recent study found 66% of tablet and smartphone users get news on their device. Additionally, a brand new study from IBM which cross-examined more than 400 business executives, revealed the top trends impacting competitiveness of their enterprise. Among them was the proliferation of mobile devices, cloud platforms, and intelligent/connected devices.

Out of the business leaders surveyed, only 25% felt their teams leveraged these future advantages effectively. Is your company in the majority that is already ahead of the game? Of course, companies will benefit most from addressing the trend rather than hitting the panic button.

On a Budget?

Let’s say you’re a small business or even large enterprise that doesn’t quite have the funds to allocate for such a project. The key decisions to analyze before taking the plunge are which content, functionality, and design elements are important to the user experience.

As mentioned, frustrated users who are inherently short on time will exit almost immediately. In many cases, it’s as simple as setting up a website engineered to handle traffic in a dynamic way from a diverse device pool. The device agnostic approach in online branding is fast becoming the true religion of top firms.

No, there is no absolute in this approach, but there is an ideal.  Developing a core experience whilst being mindful of the usual platform and creating a functionality based off this. A great preliminary step is to take a look at web analytics or contact your web administrator to determine how the majority of users access your site. Pair these findings with market trends, and demographics [plus niche, which we’ll get into in a moment], and take a proper approach towards development.

Popular approaches as progressive enhancement utilize browser “sniffing” or detection once you’ve established whether your users favor the use of tablets or otherwise. Another popular means of responsive development is the “mobile-first” approach – best considered moving backwards while going forward – starting simple by engineering for mobile rather than attempting to fit a desktop version with all the bells and whistles into a 5′ inch screen.

Other means of accommodating visitors can include downloading responsive themes (such as Omega from Drupal), setting grids, unobtrusive Javascript, media queries, and/or using pattern libraries and style tiles.

Know Your Niche

In the event your target market is young, look to smartphone compatibility as high priority. According to a recent study from Nielsen reveals that 43 percent of all US mobile phone subscribers own a smartphone. Naturally, the percentages tend taper off with age increase, where 62 percent of mobile adults aged 25-34 report as owning smartphones. Statistics like this might weigh in on your final decision, saving money and time on development efforts that might simply be unnecessary.

Less is truly more in terms of responsive design – function will always win over fashion. Prior research from your team before consultation with a web designer will provide the best suggestions for the company doing the work. Open interpretation is best left for art exhibits…tell the hired web developer exactly what you want.

Ensuring sites load quickly, are easy to navigate, and dynamic is a growing requisite among top companies. The ability to broadcast and seamlessly represent your brand across a range of devices could be the difference between losing a visitor and nailing a conversion. Here are some more big reasons Responsive Design is important – ones you might have not considered.

  • For some households, mobile devices the primary [and only] means of accessing the web
  • A mobile device might be the most convenient
  • Your closest competitors plan to, or have already made their website responsive

Let’s face it – the days of thumbing through the Yellow Pages are long gone. The best means of representing and listing your company nowadays is via the web. Moreover, your corporate site will typically be the first (and most important) impression for visitor. Don’t let it be your last, and most certainly don’t allow potential customers to make stark assumptions based on a jarringly sub-par user experience.

Responsive design is the de facto standard in an age where mobile devices come in a myriad of varieties. In fact, Mashable recently deemed 2013 the Year of Responsive Design. As the methods in which media is consumed rapidly changes, so should that of the firms providing it.

The best companies are proactive, mindful of their audience, and engaged in the design and development of interfaces for multiple platforms. Responsive design isn’t just a phenomena of 2013 – it’s a prerequisite to doing business in the future.