September 13, 2013

Five Tips for Creating a Well Thought Out Responsive Website

Today's websites are designed, developed and implemented with mobile in mind. Responsive Design, one of the more effective ways to approach designing websites for mobile devices, has quickly emerged as an important way to meet the need. Every decision made during the process of designing a website ties back to creating a intuitive experience on all devices. Not having a plan to meet mobile audiences will lead to a broken user experience that frustrates mobile viewers and hurts a brand. A few years ago, designing for mobile was an add-on as the mobile viewership was low and the number of devices small. Today website design means delivering user experiences to an infinite variety of screen sizes and resolutions.

responsive_web_designThis is where Responsive Design thrives.

Responsive Design is a very efficient way to make your website’s layout adjust for different screen sizes. With smart front-end coding, and thoughtful design planning, a Responsive website will customize how it presents content and delivers the user experience on a variety of devices. What goes into executing a successful Responsive Design plan for mobile websites? Here are some key issues to consider.

Too often, content is added to a website far after design has been approved and development is almost complete. But designing with content is invaluable in helping designers and developers plan and create a user experience for mobile, that effectively reaches your goals. Having the content early in the initial design phase pays makes it more likely that the design solution will translate properly when final content is added.
Functionality for the Device

Mobile phones have limited capabilities and a smaller screen size compared to desktop computers. Design mobile-friendly wireframes and design comps and make sure key features of your desktop site actually work on mobile. A design process like mobile-first addresses this by limiting planning only to what’s possible on mobile, and then adding from there. However, smart decisions made during design, and a plan for dealing with mobile devices, such as turning off certain features that won’t translate well to mobile.

Code Libraries
Responsive “frameworks,” custom libraries of code, like Foundation have been introduced to speed up the process. They provide a grid or general foundation for rapid prototyping of different mobile layouts and functionality, without having to re-invent the wheel every time.

With an incredible range of screen sizes and resolutions, websites need a way to deliver images effectively to everything from a large screen desktop to mid-resolution smartphones. CSS Media Queries are pieces of code that analyze the size of the user's browser window, then instantly deliver the proper code for that specific browser.

Retrofitting Live Websites
Current websites can be retrofitted for mobile. Start with a meaningful discovery process and be prepared to have to make some compromises. Depending on the current design and structure of the website, this could be straightforward, or not. It all depends on how the site’s HTML and CSS are written, and how well the site’s design lends itself to mobile layouts. Audit the site’s code and determine what are priorities. When you retrofit website code, there are usually unexpected surprises, and things may take longer than expected. Choices about functionality that may have worked perfectly on a desktop but may turn out to be very hard to replicate in a mobile environment. Complicated layouts may need to be simplified for mobile. Content will most certainly need to be shortened. And Calls-to-Action strategized for the device.

Planning thoroughly for Responsive Design early on is the best way to ensure fewer development bugs. It’s also the best way to deliver a great user experience no matter where the user is.