The digital landscape is shifting. Predictions are rolling in that suggest mobile and tablet device usage will overtake desktop usage sometime between 2014-2015. Add a 55% increase in smartphone subscriptions in 2012, along with the penchant users seem to have for reading their information on the web rather than in apps, and you’ll understand why some businesses, like Harvard, Nike, Time, and Starbucks have already made the move to responsive design.

Why? Because designing a site that grants the ability to adapt to both the screen size and platform of the visiting user is an approach that addresses this growing mobile traffic. Specifically traffic that’s visiting your site.

This brings up the question—should you be considering responsive design for your website?

The HMA website recently took the responsive design plunge, thanks to an excellent “built from scratch” project, carried out by our savvy Interactive Designer, Jason Getz. A Pennsylvania College of Art and Design graduate, with his BFA in graphic design, Jason says, “I worked on and off the project for about two months, after Drew (HMA President Drew Dorgan) asked me to redesign the existing site. Then in late January 2013, it was ready to go live.”

Given my own abysmal knowledge of web design, I met with Jason to gather the basic background on this emerging trend. He describes responsive design as an approach to “designing one website that can be optimally viewed on multiple screens, using less horizontal scrolling.” This method takes the place of designing multiple versions of HMA’s website for each type of viewing platform.

Jason accomplished this for the HMA website by implementing a single design using fluid widths in percentages that’s able to be scaled up or down, depending on the demands of the screen resolution on which it’s being viewed. So, whether you’re reading this from a desktop, a tablet or a mobile device, the single design he created provides a successful experience for all viewers. If you manually resize the browser, you’ll notice how the screen resizes and adjusts, based on the width of the browser.

Not to get too hung up on the technical aspects, it should also be mentioned that fluid grids, flexible/responsive images or media, and media queries are the three basic components of responsive design.

Although it proved to be a “good challenge” for an interactive designer, Jason admits it led to some tedious problems—pictures got cropped out or overlaid the type; some things became “jumbled” or unwieldy. He says, “I stuck to a simple column layout, and everything but the home page is based on the same design—sidebar, main content, header.” In the end, he admits it’s one of his favorite portfolio projects to date.

At first glance, responsive design seems to offer the simplest way to reach your readers across multiple devices. However, based upon current articles written in regard to responsive design, the jury is still out; there are those who believe there are still too many restrictive/negative aspects to the approach while others, like Google, lend wholehearted support. Google’s in favor since it calls for only one set of code, making it easier to organize and sync redirects and links. Since users don’t need to access a device-optimized view, loading time is also reduced. In addition, with a single URL, Google’s algorithms can more easily assign the indexing properties for the content.

Responsive design is certainly not a one-size-fits-all method, and as with most decisions, there are pros and cons to weigh. Even though it has yet to become an industry standard, it remains an emerging technique worthy of consideration.

The following questions may be a good starting point as you explore the idea of responsive design for your own company:

  • From what device is your traffic viewing your site content—desktop, mobile or tablet devices? What screen resolution is used for each device?
  • What is the objective of your website? Are you providing visitors with informational content? Or do you feature dynamic or interactive media content?
  • Will providing a better user experience for your mobile users significantly impact your company’s desired outcome?

So, what are your thoughts about this emerging approach? Have you taken the plunge, and if so, has it been beneficial? Still not sure it’s a good idea? Tell us why.