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BizReport : Internet : October 07, 2013

Why responsive design may not be a cure-all

Responsive design has been touted by some to be a cure-all to online and cross-screen problems. Responsive design ensures customer experience is one reason so many believe this new way of building websites is the best way to proceed. But is it, really?

by Kristina Knight

Kristina: Responsive design has a lot of proponents in the online space. But, are there drawbacks to this kind of design?

Carin van Vuuren, Usablenet CMO: Yes, there are a number of drawbacks around site performance, the ability to deliver context-rich experiences, and loss of control in mobile marketing. Certain areas of the web experience - such as sites with heavy editorial content naturally lend themselves to a responsive approach because it is important that all content is presented well regardless of device. In some ways, e-commerce check-out functionality falls into the same category, and these types of experiences can be effectively extended across all mobile devices using responsive design techniques. But where RWD falls short is on complex sites where multiple user journeys are present at once. A good example of this is a comprehensive retail site with thousands of products, high-resolution images, color swatches, user-generated content, high-frequency marketing offers and campaigns, as well as videos and animation. This type of complex functionality makes it difficult to envision how a responsive approach would deliver a smooth, fast and efficient customer experience for mobile users.

Kristina: Specific to mobile screens, is responsive design more of a hindrance than a help? Why/why not?

Carin: This is a difficult question to answer, as there is definitely benefit to taking a responsive approach for mobile devices in certain instances. But, while responsive design does make sites look great on smaller mobile screens, it is not an ideal approach for mobile browsers. Within a responsive approach, all the content that populates the desktop site is also served to smaller devices like smartphones and tablets. The device web browser detects the screen size and makes format changes based on the CSS. However, all images and elements are loaded, no matter the device. This affects page load times and results in much less speed. By comparison, mobile web sites powered by server-side solutions are fast and deliver a better experience because the server "frees the device" by executing all content and functionality on the server.

Kristina: How does Usablenet answer the problem of good design that works across screens and mobile optimization/page load times?

Carin: Our platform has delivered award-winning experiences that work across multiple screens and all operating systems since the mid-2000's. Usablenet's design philosophy is adaptive, and our technology platform is server-side, meaning that we use our platform to detect the device, and serve a mobile user experience that is unique and optimized for that particular device and operating system. Usablenet's platform enables design that reflects key differences in device interface, as well as the needs and context of the user. This server-side approach separates data, to power the experience and user interaction, from the presentation layer, enabling us to create a unique experience on every device.

More from Carin and Usablenet later this week, including how brands can build better customer experiences across devices.

Image via Shutterstock

Tags: ecommerce, responsive design, Usablenet, website design tips

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