How responsive development is sucking the life out of great design..

There is an ongoing debate over the choice between repsonsive web development and dedicated mobile content. Here’s a simple summary of the highlights, that I hope serve to keep you informed of the options:

For the unititiated, there are dozens of screen sizes that have access to websites.. from large desktops to handheld smart phones. There are also a range of connectivity from broadband to sketchy cellular access from the bumpy backseat of a taxi. Responsive sites are programmed to modify the arrangement and size of the elements to fit the viewer’s screen. Dedicated mobile solutions also detect the size of the screen, and then serve unique purpose-built versions of sites for large, medium and small devices.

IS IT RESPONSIVE? You can check to see if a site has been developed as responsive by dragging the right bottom corner of the browser window and adjusting the viewing window width down.. If the elements scale and move to fit.. it is. You can only do this on a desktop site… try it with this site.

First, in terms of building and maintaining content - having one site is clearly the easy way. One point for Responsive.

There are some aspects that are not so great however…

Dedicated mobile pre-supposes the chance of limited cellular network bandwith — a dedicated mobile website is optimized for smaller files, reduced resolution of images, video and content.

This will ALWAYS deliver a more efficient user experience. Responsive sites are by comparison a big compromise here... One reason is that large images are often scaled by the processor on the client side, taxing already limited CPU cycles. Dedicated mobile is simply always going to do a better job at optimized bandwidth use.

Mobile interaction is tapping and swiping… Desktop is hover and click..

Consider the vast differences between a mobile UI, which is designed for tapping and swiping vs. an expansive desktop site designed to work with dynamic mouse-over states. The methodologies of interaction are entirely different. You really can never make one site be great at both.

thin vertical vs. wide landscape

3. EVER TILT OR ROTATE YOUR DESKTOP SCREEN AROUND? The aspect ratio is different between mobile and desktop screens, with elements at a different scale. It‘s a bit like planning on how to paint a picture that works as both a landscape and portrait. It can be done, but there are some compromises…

You can dedicate time and resources to fully take advantage of opportunities to utilize the functionality of the device: e.g. access the phone, camera, address book, other apps etc.

5. LOCATION LOCATION LOCATION Dedicated mobile allows unique content to be served specific to geolocation and pre-supposes change of location.

Mobile is a fleeting medium where time is precious and the user is usually distracted.. On a desktop, by contrast, people are more likely to be reflective. They are more likely to read long copy, be open to engagement and entertainment and will likely engage in a host of actions that are unlikely on mobile devices: connecting to other web sites, opening documents, saving files etc. bookmarking, sharing via email etc.

Finally, there is a little point of design integrity: designing for multiple screen sizes, intents, interaction styles, context and bandwith scenarios intrinsically requires compromises. By attempting to do make things work for everything at once, you sort of get the grey mush. Everything is dumbded down to the common denominator, made to scale and fit into a swiss grid. The possibilities are absolutely limited. Everything looks the same. Website design becomes commoditized and automated.. the opportunities to connect on an emotional level reduced…. Have an idea to use engaging luscious full screen video? You will annoy your entire mobile audience as it attempts to load... Designing an interface that allows a simple swipe to get to the next page? Not happening on the desktop.

WHY ? So in summary, I would make the case for dedicated mobile being clearly the best choice. It is more that double the work to manage and maintain, and there is even a theoretical hit to take in terms of Google site rank (it is only theoretical and there are SEO work arounds )… but I would say, for the right sites, where mobile really matters.. It’s the only way to deliver a world-class user experience.

What’s more.. You can always make the desktop version scale to meet a range of screens… then redirect mobile traffic to a unique version of the site that is designed for the little screens.

I speak from experience, as our firm builds both types of web presence and there are distinct advantages to each. I hope this is helpful.