'Web Design Help'

Does Responsive Design Matter?

28 OCT 2014 0

In 2013, the Interior Department of Alaska spent $98,670 to install a bathroom (well, really more of an outhouse) on an Alaskan trail. The outhouse features a single toilet with no internal plumbing.

I did a quick Google search and found the 2011 attendance on this trail (the Swede Lake Trail) was 2,109 visitors.

On one hand, you could argue: "Hey, going to the bathroom is REALLY important! Everyone has to go to the bathroom at one point or another, so we need to have that available."

Or, you could logically argue: "Look, maybe the approximately 2,000 visitors a year can go to the bathroom before they leave home, or figure out "another" solution. After all, that traffic volume isn't likely to be large enough to produce human waste that would have any meaningful impact on the trail environment."

So, what does a $100,000 outhouse in Alaska have to do with responsive design? Sometimes adding responsive design to your website is your own personal expensive Alaskan toilet. I know that sounds absolutely CRAZY... but stick with me for a minute.

Over the last few years it's become much easier to deal with mobile visitors through responsive design. I'm assuming you already know what responsive design does, but in simplest terms, a responsive design will actually expand or contract to fit the screen you are viewing it on.

This is a great tool that we professional web developers have in our toolbox, and just like every other popular tool we've gotten our hands on, we tend to try to use the hammer for every situation, even if what we really need is a screwdriver. There was a time when websites entirely based in Flash (a great tool for its time) were what you needed no matter what, and look where that got us.

The latest popular "webism" (yes, I just made up a word) is: "We're designing for mobile first!" Sometimes, that makes practical sense. Sometimes, it really, really doesn't.

Right about now you're saying: "Hold on a moment, Dave, surely you aren't trying to making a case against responsive web design here? That's practically insanity!"

Don't worry, I'm not. As I've said, responsive web design is a fantastic tool that we have in our toolbox, but it's just one of many tools. If your website is for a large corporation or is going to be getting massive traffic from the general populace, then mobile-first is more than likely the way to go. But web developers have latched on to responsive design and are presenting it as a MUST HAVE for any new website, which increases the cost of the project and might not be necessary.

The demographics of your audience and your current site statistics should always be Step One of the equation. Certainly, if you are an organization whose website only serves college-aged students, then launching a new website that isn't responsive is a very bad idea.

However, if you're a wholesale distributer that sells products to other businesses in an old world business like construction, responsive design may not be critical for you.

The statistics will tell the tale. Look at your Google Analytics. If 5% of your traffic is mobile and tablet based, then you can probably get away without serving your mobile visitors (for now). However, if you're hitting 30%, then it's pretty important to address that as soon as possible.

Look, mobile traffic isn't going away, it's becoming more and more prevalent every day, but the problem with this whole responsive web design revolution is that your interests as the customer and our interests as web developers are not always aligned.

It is expensive to do a responsive version of a custom design properly. This increases the cost of the project and therefore a web developer profits more on the project.

Another common argument here will be: "But Dave, if you don't design responsively, then when it does come time to serve mobile visitors, your website will have to be completely re-done."

This is a false perception. If your site is designed with proper, clean coding and design, then it is relatively easy to upgrade to responsive design. We have done so for several customers whose websites were originally designed before responsive design was even a thing.

We've also advised several customers who've come to us for a responsive design upgrade that now might not be the right time for it, since so few of their visitors are mobile-based.

Don't get me wrong, I'm happy to make the sale and I'm in business to turn a profit, I just happen to believe that aligning my interests as the service provider to what's in the best interest of my customer—rather than what will turn the greatest profit for my company—is a much more sustainable and long-term business strategy.

It's worked pretty well so far.

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