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Five key reasons why you should care about responsive design

This post was written by Paul Brown and first appeared on the LINE blog on 13th February 2013.

Paul Brown, LINE’s Technical Director, highlights the importance of responsive web design as a key innovation that is having an impact in learning technologies.

Responsive web design (RWD) has been talked about a great deal recently and it is gaining in popularity. RWD uses HTML, Javascript and CSS as a single code base, which can adapt to different devices and capabilities.

Following the same URL users can access your web content on a mobile, desktop computer or tablet device and receive an optimal user experience in each case. RWD is created by your designers and developers. Using RWD allows them to cater for all the devices available today, and also future-proofs your content at the same time.

It is important to recognise that RWD is not just another fad. The impact it can have on your content and learning strategy is significant. As a technical person I’ve seen a wide range of sites being converted and updated and it’s our responsibility to champion the view that things don’t need to look the same in all browsers. Research has shown that typical users tend to only use a single browser and if the content looks right for them they don’t think to look at it from another browser.

In this post I’ve identified five important reasons why you need to know more about RWD.

1. Your audience is no longer tied to the desktop

Take any rush hour train into a city and watch the number of people on a touchscreen device browsing websites. The desktop is not going away, but the rapid growth of mobile computing is transformational. Ensuring your audience can reach your content at any time, and at all times, is essential.

Ignoring a content channel that is becoming so significant in people’s lives could lead to your content becoming irrelevant: users will not come back at a latter stage through a different means.

2. Developers & designers increase their ROI with RWD

Producing great content is hard work (it’s also great work!). It makes good business sense to produce RWD, which can be accessed on the desktop, mobile and tablet without separate development work for each different format. Taking this on upfront is a choice that does not require a huge increase in effort and leads to increased efficiency and greater value to the business.

3. Developers write leaner, less and smarter code

In catering for the many different devices on the market, RWD requires smarter code to be written that adheres to web standards. Developers will produce less lines of code, and code which is cleaner. With fewer lines, there is less chance of bugs – and the code is easier to maintain. As many studies have shown software maintenance can account for as much as 60-70% of the total cost. See this article by Rahul Agarwal for more indepth debate.

4. Optimising a site for RWD increases your searchability

If your content is going on the web, rather than on a local or private network, there is a further advantage to following the practises of RWD. Google and other search engines will promote responsively written sites above those which are aimed at just the desktop.

5. Future proof your content on new devices

New devices are flooding onto the market every day. Following RWD allows you to future proof your content so that it can be accessed from these new devices without costly updates and fixes.

6. RWD improves usability, which makes users happier

Design plays a critical part in a RWD strategy. Ensuring you give users a usable mobile, tablet and desktop experience will lead to users staying longer and coming back more often.
Web analytics may not show an explosion in mobile usage but it does lead to a steady growth in usage across all channels.
I’ve never heard of a user complain about a site being responsively designed!

Don’t forget the app

Of course, RWD is not the complete solution to content delivery for learning and communications. There are many situations where an immersive, engaging experience is required, or use needs to be made of native device functionality such as geo-location, specific media players, offline access, etc.

Combining the practises of RWD with a platform such as our own LINEstream enables the best of both worlds. Users benefit from a packaged app which can be installed onto their tablet or smartphone complete with HTML5 content and hybrid capabilities.

You can learn more about both these options here.