As recent technology allows us to be connected to the internet with more and more ease, from our desk, from our iPad or smartphone, there is a greater demand for the use of responsive website design, customising interfaces for the variety of different devices, without the need of multiple domains or cumbersome navigation.
Responsible design is, in essence, providing an optimal viewing experience with the minimum navigation (such as scrolling and resizing) from the user. The question is, can mobile and desktop interfaces work together as a single, responsive website that is above all adapted to the client’s needs, and the specific needs and capabilities of the viewing device? The key to responsive design is presenting to the user what he needs in the most suitable context. Let us consider these contexts:
The desktop user – The desktop user is likely to be browsing multiple websites and web pages at a time at his leisure, and the large desktop monitor allows for easy reading, plenty of navigation functions, banners, and other elements such as ads, sidebars, social network feeds and more.
The iPad user – The iPad has revolutionised the way in which we can organise our lives, and keep our computers and businesses with us whilst on the go. The versatile iPad allows for clear and concise website browsing, perhaps while commuting or between business meetings, and the user-friendly touch-navigation and comparatively large screen presents a highly visual and pleasant browsing experience.
The mobile user – Smartphones today allow us to access our favourite websites in a concise environment that may only allow us a few seconds or a few minutes of browsing, and so the mobile website should present only that which is necessary, the most relevant content, clear yet minimal menus and navigation, and clutter-free design.
There are many considerations to factor in when deciding to develop completely separate websites or web applications, or developing a single adaptive website built on the same domain. Websites built on the same url must serve content to all devices, without sacrificing context, yet a more complex development and design structure is necessary for fulfilling the needs of all browser capabilities. (An iPad or iPhone uses touch instead of a mouse pointer, and a mobile website should use minimal bandwidth for example).
However, developing entirely separate websites guarantees content that is highly optimised for its specific browser, providing the best information that is relevant to the user in his different environment. Separate websites have to be maintained separately, and so keeping everything consistent in terms of context and content must considered. Some websites such as a news or financial websites require more frequent updating than a restaurant’s, and so some websites may be more suited to the ‘develop as one’ solution. In mobile websites for instance, the focus does not have to be design, in terms of the way a page looks (as long as the basic colour scheme, layout and branding reflect the desktop site), but the way in which it handles in relation to its browsers and context.