Rant against Responsive Websites

April 15, 2015

Lately I’ve been inundated with individuals proclaiming they need a responsive website, without considering any other technicalities and consequences. Hopefully I can give light as to why not building a proper responsive website will hinder more than it will help.

Responsive Design:

Responsive design came about to increase the user experience. Simple. Are we achieving this in the current form of responsive websites? Sometimes yes, usually I would say no.

Why would you avoid Responsive Design’s:

  • Budget
  • Potential to hinder usability
  • Constrictive
  • Slow

Budget:

It takes significantly more time designing and developing a responsive website than it does providing a client with one solid version that isn’t responsive. Being honest, many clients that I currently serve just don’t have the budget for us to spend the time creating a real good responsive layout. Suddenly we are cutting corners and who suffers at the end? The user. The user that can’t find the phone number because suddenly it’s only displaying in the header on their phone and not on the desktop. Who knew desktop users wanted the phone number? We didn’t have the time to make important considerations as to what users need/want for the clients specific goals.

Hinders Usability:

I don’t think I have delved deep enough into the different types of Responsive Websites to discuss usability in depth enough.

  1. Responsive Web Design: Same HTML and website, but using CSS it scales to respond to the users device (mobile / tablet / desktop)
  2. Dynamic Serving: Same URL however the HTML generated is different for each device
  3. Separate URL’s: Typically m.yourwebsite.com

I’ll be honest, I am not entirely against “typical” responsive web design where CSS is dictating what is visible to the user. Given the current audience and time to develop such a website, this is your best option (in my opinion). Actually if we want to get specific, it’s also Google’s opinion too.

Responsive Web Design:

Assuming the designers have optimized the responsive website to show what I’m needing on my phone, I’m a happy guy. If, on the other hand, the website owner recently installed the “Super Awesome Responsive WordPress Website Auto Generator” Plugin, I cringe. Let’s face it, the website owner most likely has done zero research as to what I might be looking for on my iPhone vs browsing on my computer. It just becomes a mess. Important content disappears, and instead the logo is suddenly 6x larger (“Oh but I need my mobile users to understand my brand!”).

**Face-palm**

Given proper planning and development however, this can be a great method. It’s more so the other suggested methods that bother me.

Dynamic Serving/Separate URL’s

Again, I could do the same reference as above for both methods here (but I won’t). The worst thing that you can do is create a mobile website on the m.domain.com method. Have you ever got a link from a friend in an email, you open it up, and it displays the mobile website on your 27″ iMac? Seriously… people… who’s in charge here! How is this helping with usability? (realtor.ca is bad for this)

How about doing a google search (Walmart used to be awful for this), and you click the link for a product, and it redirects you to the front page of the mobile website. Good job guys. Now I have to sit here finger pecking on my phone searching for your product a second time! How is this helping usability again?

Again, perhaps this arguing more that it was poor execution of that method than saying that method is poor. Given the large companies adopting this poor execution however, it is becoming a trend and daily clients see it as a good thing (“because larger competitor X is doing it”).

Constrictive:

Constrictive… or maybe claustrophobic. That’s how I feel arriving at some “user friendly mobile websites”. Given the nature of the website, I’ve already seen it on the desktop and know where X button is. Suddenly I have to scroll 900 times to get to the mobile footer menu and click the same link.

Again, usability, what if this website was’t mobile at all? Instead it was a traditional website. I would just zoom to where I know the button is, and click it. Two steps. EZ PZ. Instead I sit scrolling through a 2100 word page to get to their footer navigation containing my specific button. (on the up side they get extra bonus SEO points for having good page content. haha)

Imagine this: You goto Google maps to find the nearest Pizza restaurant, but it starts you off zoomed right into your neighbourhood and you can’t zoom out! Annoying, am I right?

Slow:

I feel like I’ve been ranting. I’ll keep this one short. Most responsive websites load the content for every device, and then hide what it doesn’t need to show. You still have the same content to download. For this reason, building responsive layout’s often end up increasing the entire website download size = slower loading = bad SEO and usability.

I’ll wrap up this section with an infographic from Strangeloop:

infographic-mobile-BLOG3

 

Concluding Thoughts:

It might sound like I’m really quite against responsive designs. In actuality, I’m not. I think it’s the fact that everyone believes they need it, so they cheap out or don’t get educated enough and the final result is worse than if they stuck with a solid traditional layout.

Many individuals that I talk to still prefer the “pinch-n-zoom” method over the mobile versions.

Given the time, resources, correct audience, website goals, and planning – a responsive website can certainly increase conversion rates and better their online experience.

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