Here we are, gathered around again for another article on responsive design. You’ve heard me say why responsive design is great, how easy it is to implement, and the different ways you can approach it. Now I’m going to tell you why you shouldn’t use it.
Okay, not quite, but I am going to focus on the pros and cons of using responsive design. Every design system has its drawbacks, and this is no different. The question, of course, is do the positives outweigh the negatives? And the answer to that is, it depends what resources you have and what your needs are.
- Low Maintenance – One of the biggest upsides to responsive design is the need to only maintain one website. Every device gets a different layout, but the same content simultaneously. This is important if your website goes through frequent content updates. If you are updating numerous times a day, this makes your work much more streamlined than having to update your desktop page, your mobile page, and maybe even a tablet or middle range page.
- Brand Consistency – Having only one webpage to maintain allows you to also keep an incredibly uniform brand representation across your pages. The look and feel of your page, and all of the brand image imbued within it, will remain consistent for all screen sizes, and you won’t have to spend time ensuring similar representations across different versions of your site.
- Usability – Responsive design is known for being user friendly, mainly because visitors only have to learn your site once. Their navigational abilities aren’t stunted when they decide to visit your page on another platform, and they get a uniform experience from anywhere.
- No redirects – This aspect seems insignificant at first glance, but helps ensure your users always have a positive experience with your site, especially if you are sharing content on social media platforms. Having a uniform URL for all versions of your site means that you can link to content elsewhere with one link, and no longer worry if users will have compatibility issues. Mobile users won’t be directed to the desktop version, and vice-versa.
- Development Time – Obviously a responsive website can take more time than a regular page, and require more testing than others. It also takes longer to convert an old website than to create a new one from the ground up. You will still likely spend less time than building multiple versions of one page, but if you outsource your mobile page to a seperate designer, you may actually end up increasing your load by taking on a responsive page.
- Different Devices are Still Different – While responsive design allows users to have a more uniform experience than different versions of the same page, there is no way any website will ever work equally well on every platform or device. Different platforms have different needs associated with them, and having only one version of your page actually limits the ways you can tailor your content to their needs. Sabina Idler from Webdesigner Depot uses the scenario of a public transportation website. Desktop users will either be planning trips or looking for deals, with plenty of time to look at options and explore. A mobile user on the other hand, may be relying on the mobile site to get on the correct train at the last second. If you only have one version of the page, you can’t cater to both.
- Scalable Images Lose Details – Scaled images lose detail, which strips them of meaning. With responsive design, images and text are scaled by screen size rather than context, so things you want to be big may not be. There are ways to get around this issue, but it still takes time and planning to avoid.
- Designing Menus – Desktop pages anymore tend to have fairly complex menus with multiple layers. Trying to design a seperate version of this for a mobile user is hard enough, but designing one menu for both is downright intimidating. The rule to follow is to try to find a balance between easy access to info and unobtrusive design.
If you have the time to invest in responsive design, it is very possible it will benefit you. To know if it will however, you have to take a long look at your business and decide what is needs are. Do you have customers who may have drastically different wants based on what platform they are on? Do you have numerous updates going out every day? Answer these questions, and you will be much closer to knowing what path to take.