(Un)responsive design — Stop shoving your app down my throat

Responsive design used to be a big thing, back in the day.
The increase in mobile traffic, which surpassed desktop traffic in 2015, gave us no choice but to take the mobile users under consideration. As designers, developers or product manager — we had to provide a whole and functional experience, regardless of the user’s screen size or device.

Since different mobile devices had different capabilities, a stable and consistent user-experience was hard to come by.

2 main practices were suggested to achieve this purpose — graceful degradation & progressive enhancement.

Graceful degradation is the practice of building your web functionality so it provides a certain level of user experience in modern browsers, but it will also degrade gracefully to a lower level experience in older browsers. The “degraded” version won’t be as pleasant, but it will provide the user with the core functionality.

Progressive enhancement (mobile-first) is the same, but in reverse. You start by establishing a basic user experience that all browsers will be able to provide when rendering your web site, and then you create an additional layer of advanced functionality/experience that will automatically be available to supported browsers.

The base assumption in both, was that the user should be able to easily access the core functions of the site at hand. Back then — the user came first!

Responsive design was already greatly discussed, and every web developer nowadays is familiar with the required techniques, introduced by Ethan Marcotte, who in fact coined the term “Responsive Design”.

A more interesting plot twist, is the “un-responsive” mobile approach some of the big players are taking.
It seems that giving a functional experience in the mobile web is a thing of the past.
The new objective is to twist the user’s arm into fulfilling their business goals, by all means necessary. No matter how aggressive those might be.

Let’s look at an example

Peekaboo — Converting web traffic to app downloads

This trend started small, with the smart and a bit obtrusive app banners.
Safari has a Smart App Banner feature that provides a standardized method of promoting apps from a website. Android also has a similar banner.

Though the banner appears at the top of your content, it can easily be dismissed. And I would say that the user still gets the full mobile-web experience.

Later on, this practice grew into a full screen, UI-blocking experience. Still dismissible though.

Which then evolved into misleading the user to believe it is his only way, If he wants to access the provided service. With a non dismissible experience, that contain a prominent call-to-action.

This is particularly frustrating, while being presented after every swipe or navigation.

But hey, if it fits your screen — it is responsive, right?

Tip of the iceberg

The technique escalated quickly, and reached it’s peak when sites actually started restricting access from mobile-browsers, and the only way to access the content was using an app.
The user is able to browse just a bit — to see the tip of the iceberg, before he is blocked, and presented with a referral to the app store.
In my opinion, this technique takes it one step too far.

Partners in crime

An excellent example of combining user and business goals, was AliExpress.
With their reduced prices in the mobile app, and their clear (yet not obtrusive) call-to-action.
The user gets a great experience, and is aligned with their business goals because of the discount. Thus, they just made him a partner!

Conversion to mobile is just an example of an agenda sites try to promote while compromising on the user experience, using UI blocking elements. 
A study suggests that 69% of the people who encounter them, actually abandon the site altogether.

“Respect my authoritah”

With great power comes great responsibility, and just because a platform has millions of users which are bound to stay — doesn’t mean it should loosen its standards in terms of user experience. 
On the contrary, the big players should set an example.

Google is aware of this, and is now penalizing the search rankings of websites that use pop-up mobile ads. These sites are no longer considered mobile-friendly, because of the frustrating experience they provide.

The core of responsive design isn’t about making a good-looking UI. It also isn’t about the nifty tools we use as web developers, to make the magic happen.
Responsive design is about giving our users the best experience possible, considering the device and browser restrictions. And most of all, responsive design is about accessibility.

Web accessibility aims to remove barriers that prevent interaction with our websites, by people with disabilities. So why are we creating barriers for all of our users, and for no good reason?
We get so caught up with our business goals, that we sometimes forget the user’s goals.

So next time you are creating a new experience — try creating a balanced one. 
In the long run, your users will thank you….