3 Disadvantages of Responsive Web Design

We usually consider the Responsive Design as the solution by default for most of the multi-screen digital services. But it might not suit your expectations …

For several years now, the digital communication has known a revolution with this new technic to create multi-devices digital services: the responsive design. Along this period of time, several projects based on this technic have been released or have failed. Today it’s possible to get interesting insights about it.

The idea of this article is not to deny the obvious advantages of responsive design. But I want to talk about some disadvantages that we HAVE to consider before asking this famous question: “Responsive or not responsive?”

Reminder: What’s responsive design

Responsive Design is a concept for both design and IT allowing a website to be adapted to different screen sizes and different devices (large screen, laptop, tablet, smartphone…).

The principle is quite straightforward. Instead of creating a design for each device and redirect the user to the tablet or the mobile version, the browser adapts automatically the layout accordingly to the screen width.

So we have to design based on fluid grid systems and adapt components for each case. Responsive Design induces a new way to think and design digital interfaces with layouts, margins, font sizes and images which are constantly adapted. This technic generally works with a single one HTML5 structure for all the versions (tablet, mobile etc.) and a CSS stylesheet for each version.
Finally, we don’t need to create a specific application for each device but a single one web application which is adapted for all of them.

Advantages of Responsive Design

First, thanks to Responsive Design the brand gets a digital service “X in 1” but it’s also a powerful mean of communication to empower the brand image.

This technic has all the advantages that the web apps have over the native applications: a coding with a single language (HTML/CSS), it’s accessible from a web browser, ability to override the validations required by the stores. It’s also possible to release updates very easily without any user’s action.

This technic ensures accessibility, readability and consistency of the contents on all the devices. Using it is obviously cheaper than creating a website + a native mobile application for each OS + a native tablet application for each OS.

Nevertheless by looking into the details, this technic also creates disadvantages raising huge impacts on the strategy.

The 3 main disadvantages of responsive design

First, we must keep in mind that the information architecture is created to suit several devices, requiring much more work than designing for a classic website.

Disadvantage #1: Load Speed

Like we said before, responsive design is based on HTML5 structure linked to CSS styles. So all the devices load all the data. Even if the mobile version only keeps 60% of the desktop content, 40% will be loaded and hidden with the CSS. According to studies, 40% of users leave the mobile website if it’s not loaded within 3 seconds. So under 3G connection, the bounce rate might be high.

According to Gomez and Akamai, a delay of one second may reduce by 7% the transformation rate. On mobile, every second is important!

By increasing the loading time of an interface, responsive design may have important consequences on the business outcomes.

sources: gomez.com et akamai.com (http://blog.kissmetrics.com/loading-time/)

Disadvantage #2: The respect of usages

Depending on the device and the context, a digital service can be used in many different ways.

If the usage is different between desktop and mobile, it won’t be possible to cover all user’s needs with a Responsive Design approach. And because all user’s needs are not perfectly covered we can’t state the experience is rich.

Using Responsive Design may be a rough adaptation of an experience that doesn’t fully consider the contexts and the specific usages of each device.

Disadvantage #3: Web browsers Compatibility

It’s important to keep in mind that HTML5 is not yet supported by 100% of browsers. Especially on old smartphones. Responsive design may not be the best solution if the audience does not own recent devices. Hopefully, this disadvantage will disappear as because most of these devices are now html5 compatible.

To conclude, what Responsive Design is not

In the end, Responsive Design is a very interesting and powerful technic that we have to use with caution. Depending on the topic, the service, the experience we want to generate, the business expectations …

Let’s keep in mind that it’s not a miracle solution suiting all the problematics of all the digital services. We HAVE to consider other possible technics such as the Adaptive Design or the Fluid Design.

Choosing Responsive Design or several specific applications depends on the brand strategy: what audience do we aim to cover? From which source (web, store…)? Is the performance optimisation a requirement? Does the audience own recent devices? Etc.

Choosing Responsive Design, Adaptive Design or Fluid Design depends on the usages we want to cover on each device. But it also depends on if we want to cover a lot of different screen sizes or just a few of them.

Using Responsive Design is really efficient to deliver a service to a very wide audience, to have a wide visibility on the market. But it sometimes requires to make concessions especially in terms of performances and user experience optimisation.

Written by

Lead Designer in Lyon - previously Paris & Sydney

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