What is responsive web design?

Share this article

Responsive web design is a technique used by web developers and web designers to optimise a website for display on various different devices. Using this technique a website will ‘respond’ differently (visually) depending on the devices that the website is being viewed on without having to load a different website altogether. So, for example if you are viewing a responsive website through a smartphone, the text will appear at a legible size and the website width will adapt to the screen width of your smartphone. This then means that you won’t have to pinch to zoom in order to read text. In-fact, for most responsive website designs you will find that you won’t be able to scroll horizontally, only vertically as the website is optimised to the horizontal width of your device. If a website is well optimised for your smartphone in this way it is considered to be ‘mobile friendly’ by website visitors and search engines alike.

Why is responsive web design important?

Well, firstly, ‘mobile friendly’ websites are in high demand. Most people nowadays have smartphones or tablet devices and use them to browse the web with. Therefore, the mobile and tablet browsing statistics are constantly increasing as more and more people exclusively use these devices in order to find websites and interact with brands online. All of this means that business websites should be catering towards these types of visitors and responsive web design is (in most cases) the best way to do this.

Responsive web design is a relatively new technique that gained significant popularity in 2012 and in most cases it is a big step forward from older methods of creating ‘mobile friendly’ websites. The benefits of using this technique over other methods are three-fold:

  • Responsive web design can be developed on a single website it is both more cost effective.
  • Responsive web design can be developed adapt to a variety of screen sizes with a small amount of extra effort, a website can be somewhat future proofed against new screen sizes and devices not yet available.
  • It is far easier to tie in one responsive website with a content management system than separate websites using other methods to optimise

Therefore, in summary: a responsive website is cheaper, more future proofed, logistically more efficient and very much needed in the modern landscape of web browsing.

How did we used to ensure that websites were ‘mobile friendly’?

Previously, entirely different websites for different devices would have needed to have been created. So, for example, if you wanted a website to appear one way on the desktop, another way on a smartphone and then another way again on a tablet device, it would have meant creating 3 separate websites, even if the content was the same across all three target displays. It probably doesn’t need to be stated how inefficient and expensive this method of optimising a website for different screen sizes used to be.

Responsive web design has become a new standard

Since The SeedMill launched in 2014 we have been building responsive websites as standard unless specifically requested otherwise. You will probably find that most if not all web agencies assume that a website is going to be responsive and will build their websites accordingly nowadays.

How is a responsive website built? What are the technical implications?

From a technical point of view a responsive website can be built entirely with CSS code. CSS code determines a large proportion of what you will see in your web browser and most web designers should have good or excellent knowledge of CSS nowadays. Therefore, it shouldn’t be difficult to find someone with a strong skill-set in this area (not withstanding any content management system capabilities required). Also, because designing a responsive website only requires CSS code development, the cost savings over previous methods of building an entirely separate website for the device you want to optimised for are significant.

How important is it to have a responsive website?

As with everything, it takes longer to build a responsive website over a non-reponsive one and extra costs will result. However, this extra cost is almost a requirement nowadays due to the fact that search engines are already starting to gauge the effectiveness of ‘mobile friendliness’ in websites and rank them accordingly (you can test how Google sees your own website here: https://www.google.co.uk/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly). Personally, I’m sure we will soon see non-responsive websites being penalised in the Google rankings soon.

So, because Google are placing so much importance on ‘mobile friendly’ websites, I guess the answer to the question of how important is a responsively designed website is can you really afford not to have one?

Ray Dale

Brand Strategist. Web Designer. Web Consultant. UX Designer. WordPress Specialist. Creative Director. Co-founder of The SeedMill. With 20 years of commercial experience in web and design industries, Ray is fascinated with all forms of design and business strategy, whether that is web design, video or data driven design. Having worked for small design agencies and large corporate companies, Ray has seen all sides of the web design and marketing industries. With a head full of ideas & strategies and a skillset that is rare to find, Ray is extremely passionate about helping businesses to achieve growth online through strategy and design.