Responsive Design: Inglorius Hack or Panacea?

Written by , | Apr 17, 2013

Responsive design is both an approach and a set of technologies utilized to construct mobile websites that “respond” to the capabilities of the device rendering the site. Properly executed it can seem almost magical in its ability to render the intended user experience customized for the device at hand all in HTML.

Having just completed the Responsive Design effort for our CloudCraze eCommerce product, my own impression is that responsive design can be any one of the following: a hack, a panacea, or something in between. In addition, I’m convinced that some customer will love what we’ve put together, and some will find it completely inadequate for their needs.

Responsive design can be a hack if it is approached as technology without any regard for User Experience (UX) design. Our first cut looked horrible, but expectations were low prior to getting designers engaged. It’s relatively easy to implement Responsive Design at a technical level with tools like Bootstrap and Handlebars. The hard part comes in internalizing use-cases and making the tough choices of what stays and what goes when you slim down on screen real-estate and tailor the UX for the target device footprint.

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What we’ve also learned is that Responsive Design is not a destination but a journey. Like your website, your design is never finished, the user experience for each customer implementation of a product will vary and design assumptions will be continually challenged.

Responsive design pre-supposes an HTML-Centric approach to constructing mobile websites vs. coding to native operating systems of IOS, Android or whatever Microsoft is calling a mobile OS these days. Native applications will always have the upper hand in UX flexibility and customization but the short straw on maintenance and cost.

Mobility heightens the importance of design because of the constraints involved. I’ve read that the reason Apple makes such great products is that they know exactly what to leave out vs. what to add-in. The user experience on the original iPOD: incredibly simple. The same is true of the best responsive designs.

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