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Using Responsive Design (or, How to be Trendy and Save Money Doing it)

Until recently, designing a website was a pretty cut-and-dry process: create a design that works in a minimum of 1024×768 screen resolution, end of story. However, since the advent of smartphones and, more recently, tablets, more and more people are viewing Internet content in a mobile environment, which doesn’t behoove traditional web design. Mobile environments are small in nature, which is what makes them portable, so the challenge is creating a version of the website that works on a desktop, a tablet and a smartphone. Now instead of looking at creating a website that works for everyone and everything on a desktop, companies are looking at essentially creating three websites. That’s where responsive design comes in… Creating multiple versions of a website for viewing in different environments means at least triple the budget for creating a website design. As such, companies are loath to do so, and understandably. The problem becomes that traditional desktop-in-mind-designed websites view poorly at best on mobile devices (smartphones in particular), and so users tend to gloss over or avoid the sites that don’t cater to the mobile audience. Since the user base for mobile web surfing is growing and will continue to grow, those companies that avoid catering to those users will find that their websites go increasingly unused and are useless as a marketing and informational tool. Responsive design allows designers to create one design that works in all three main web environments. Responsive design is a web design that responds to whatever environment it detects and displays accordingly. What this means is that there is one website that morphs itself to fit into whatever environment it’s being viewed in. So rather than developing three versions of one website that users can be directed to based on which device they’re using to view the site, all users are directed to the main site URL, and the site code does all the work to adapt the view to match the users’ environment. No fuss, no muss. While using responsive design still requires basically designing three versions of a website, the site is coded as one cohesive unit. This is a more attractive option because it allows companies to implement a functional website across many different platforms at a fraction of the cost that it would take to construct a website for each. Another perk to responsive design: the ease of maintaining content. With responsive design, there is only one website to manage, so updating content is a one-and-done deal. Now, mobile users are getting the same information and news as desktop users. With a separate sub-site for each environment, the content must be updated in each every time. Responsive design also yields the benefit of changing dynamically, on the fly. Desktop users: visit and tinker around with the size of your browser window.

responsive design

Notice how the text wraps to fit in the window?

responsive design

Also note that if you shrink the window enough, the graphic elements rearrange themselves to continue to fit (however, there is a limit to how small the window can be before the elements become static). The benefit of this is that not only has using a responsive design made the website mobile-ready, but it has also made it adaptable to fit in different desktop screen resolutions. Suddenly, the problem of designing for the lowest common denominator is almost a non-issue for a desktop.

Responsive design solves the problem of designing websites across the spectrum of platforms available today without the headache of designing and maintaining multiple sites. With mobile computing trending upward, it is essential to have a functional, easy-to-use website no matter what is used to access it. Responsive design is the tight package that allows that to happen organically and without breaking the bank.
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