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Responsive Design: Best Practices and Examples

Responsive design header
These days, responsive design is an essential component of any web project. Image credit: ProfileTree

The way we use the internet has changed greatly over the last decade. Responsive design is a reaction to this change. Once upon a time, people accessed the internet using a desktop computer.

Nowadays, the picture is a lot more varied. Less than half of all browsing sessions are on desktops:

Traffic by device graphic
Mobile devices account for more web traffic than ever before. Image credit: HootSuite

More and more people are going online using their phones, tablets, and even their TVs. For businesses, this presents opportunities as well as challenges. For instance, it’s now more important than ever that your site works properly on all sorts of devices.

This is where responsive design comes in.

What is Responsive Design?

Responsive design is when your site displays differently, depending on what device it is being viewed on. Essentially, the appearance of the site is automatically adjusted to suit the screen on the user’s device.

This involves a combination of the following:

  • Resizing elements,
  • Collapsing menus,
  • Rearranging components of your site,
  • Displaying different media.

While this may seem quite complicated, most modern web design tools offer responsive design as a native functionality.

Benefits of Responsive Design

Now that you know what responsive design is, you’re wondering why it is so important. Let’s look at some concrete ways that responsive design can benefit your business.

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While similar, there are key difference between responsive and mobile-first design. Image credit: ProfileTree

There are many reasons to invest in responsive web design.

Responsive design improves both SEO and user experience.

Responsive design helps SEO in a range of ways. For instance, by eliminating the need to have dedicated pages for different devices, you eliminate the risk of publishing duplicate content. Additionally, mobile search is becoming increasingly important for acquiring users.

The user experience impact of responsive design is slightly more obvious. Think about how you feel when you click on a site on your phone, and it just doesn’t work properly. Most people will simply leave the site.

This costs you sales.

Poor UX also has an indirect effect on SEO. The more time people spend on your site, the more the search engines will think you’re providing value. All else being equal, pages with higher average-time-spent will outperform their competitors on SERPs.

From a conversion rate optimisation (CRO) point of view, responsive design offers massive benefits. CRO is all about using design elements in the way that leads to the highest rate of conversions.

But the best layout for CRO will vary from device to device.

Responsive Design Issues

However, responsive design has its downfalls, especially since it’s such an articulate development. There are a fair few disadvantages when it comes to responsive design, but it’s up to you to make a decision about what works for your business.

The drawbacks of responsive design are relatively minor but crucial to know before splashing out.

As a user navigates through their cellular device, the small screen makes it difficult to see what is much clearer on a larger screen. Sometimes, no amount of responsiveness will help with this. A better alternative might be to use accelerated mobile pages (AMPs) instead.

This also factors in the downloading time. The responsive design website takes a longer time to download on a smaller screen. This is because of the transition from the large screen to the small screen.

Another disadvantage would be the accommodation of the responsive design on old browsers. The user has to have a browser that can support responsive design. However, this is becoming less and less of an issue as old browsers become less common.

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Responsive design can also cause some problems, although these are limited. Image credit: UnSplash

Responsive Design: How to Measure Device Compatibility

Of course, before you consider investing in responsive, it’s worth figuring out how your present website looks on mobile devices. You have two options to do this.

The first is pretty obvious. You can manually load up your website on a range of devices. However, this isn’t the best way to go about things.
For example, your site might be optimised to display nicely on a handful of fixed resolutions, but this doesn’t mean it’s responsive. For another, this method will take quite a long time.

It’s better to use a window resizing tool.

These are available in the development tools of most browsers. For instance, you can switch between viewing a site as a desktop or mobile user by pressing CTRL+SHIFT+M in Google Chrome.

Responsive Design Examples

So much about the theory. Let’s take a look at what responsive design looks like in action. In particular, let’s take a look at some high profile brands who use responsive design to create an amazing user experience.
First up is Dropbox, the well known file sharing service. Here’s how their site looks on desktop;

Dropbox screenshot
DropBox's desktop site contains all the key elements of an effective landing page. Image credit: DropBox

And notice how the mobile site is rearranged and simplified:

DropBox mobile screenshot
Their mobile site contains all of the same key elements. Image credit: DropBox

Similarly, here’s Slack’s desktop site:

Slack Desktop screenshot
Slack's desktop site is also very effective. Image credit: Slack

And their pared down mobile design:

Slack mobile screenshot
The same elements are present on all devices. Image credit: Slack

In both cases, the presentation is changed to draw better attention to key design elements, including the hero copy, and CTAs.

Everything You Need to Know About Responsive Design

These days, a wide variety of different devices are used to access the internet. This is good for businesses, as it creates more opportunities to reach your customers.

However, it also creates real challenges.

Chief among these is the need to make sure your site looks great and works properly on everything from smart watches to TVs.

Responsive design is a method that allows designs and development to respond to a user’s behaviour and environment. Most often, this involves changing the design of a site to suit the screen on the user’s device.

There are several factors that contribute to responsive design. These factors include screen size, platform and orientation of the website.

The responsive design method is a practice that contains a mixture of flexible grids and layouts. It also includes images and a creative utilization of CSS media inquiries.

The drawbacks of responsive design are minor but crucial. Responsive design can hurt load speeds, and even harm UX on certain older devices.

However, the benefits of responsive design certainly outweigh these. For UX, SEO and CRO, responsive design is a quick and effective way to ensure that you bring the best possible experience to users on all kinds of devices.

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