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What Responsive Web Design can do for your Business

Updated on July 19, 2012

Responsive web design, or RWD, is gaining traction as many website owners scramble to find a way to capitalize on the steadily increasing number of mobile device users.

Is RWD really the best way to address the issue of proper display on a variety of devices, from PCs to smart-phones? Absolutely!

Why Build a Responsive Web Design?

As the number of users logging on from mobile phones and tablets increased, smart site owners, many of them in the ecommerce sector, realized that they must quickly find a way to reclaim that market segment.

Sites built for display on a PC, even if cross-browser capability was incorporated, still provided an essentially unusable experience on small mobile devices. Redesigning was still not entirely satisfactory, so some simply built a second site, specifically for mobile.

Duplicate sites presented their own problems, of course, but some considered the risks acceptable… at least more acceptable than losing a large portion of their market share.

A separate site meant additional expense, both at the outset and ongoing. There were many negative impacts and limited benefits. To make matters worse, it still only satisfied some mobile display issues. In short, it wasn’t a solution; it was only a band-aid.

Doing Things the Right Way

With the advent of HTML5 +CSS3, it seemed there might be a better way to accomplish what very few had managed, and to do it with a single site. And HTML5 got enough attention that people began to take notice.

Then, when W3C added media queries to the mix, some developers realized the possibilities and decided to put it to the test. Perhaps instead of designing a sight for the type of display anticipated, a standardized site design could do justice to any size display.

How does RWD work?

The main concept of RWD is to create a basic design, and make it adaptive by overriding the layout structure with your CSS, creating a fluid layout, dependent upon the viewport of the displaying device.

Thus, an iPhone may display a one column layout, while a tablet shows two-columns and a PC shows four… all via the CSS3 with media queries.

With HTML5+CSS3, this is enabled by encapsulating the header, footer, sidebar and content in a page-wrap container. The HTML5 elements are then reset to block.

The basic design is handled in the standard CSS, but various CSS3 elements are chosen by media queries, to customize the fluid layout to the device being served.

Finally, the display widths of various elements are set by a percentage of the standard, to suit each mobile device, the same as is done with images and embedded videos.

What are the benefits?

The benefits are numerous, even without comparing it to the building of a redundant website, just to accommodate some of the more common mobile devices. In fact, this increased versatility is achieved via a design effort that is less complex than many which don’t even consider mobile devices in their design.

The two most prominent advantages to responsive web design are:

1. A single design will display appropriately on a broad variety of devices, from a 2560px PC to a 320px iPhone or beyond;

2. The “baseline”, or basic design utilized will serve for some time, in spite of the addition of new options in display devices.

As an added benefit, future changes to usability and accessibility standards, or the addition of new devices of different display parameters won’t necessitate a site redesign. A simple CSS3 edit will accommodate the additions.

Granted, responsive web design was extremely challenging early on. The grid system wasn’t compatible with semantic markup, making workarounds a necessity. And in order to achieve a fluid layout, further workarounds were necessary.

Such growing pains are normal, as new technologies emerge and the bugs get worked out. Those issues are now behind us, but as semantic responsive web design continues to evolve, more issues may surface. Those too, will be overcome.

To be successful with an online business today, having a website that is designed to be responsive to all potential display devices is a must. And the smart site owners are pursuing semantic responsive web design, as that is where the future lies.

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