The Basics of Responsive Web Design
Creating a responsive website should be a priority for any web build but what does it mean and why is it so important?
With mobile devices now responsible for more than half of internet browsing sessions worldwide, it should come as no surprise that websites need to be mobile-friendly.
A mobile-friendly website, otherwise known as a responsive website, is essential in 2022 and here at KIJO, we’re seeing more clients than ever before prioritising responsive web design above all else.
It’s no longer enough to just have a website that looks good and performs well on desktops, you need to ensure your website is suitable for mobile devices too.
And it’s not just smartphones either. Tablets, 2-in-1 laptop screens and not to mention the different sizes of smartphones on the market, creating a responsive web design takes a lot of thought and expertise.
The better a website performs and displays on a mobile device, the better the user experience and the higher the conversion rate is likely to be.
In this article we’ll take a look at the basics of responsive web design and how you can ensure that your website is performing well on every device.
What is Responsive Web Design?
Responsive web design is a modern approach that web designers take when designing and developing a website. It refers to the concept of ensuring that a website is able to respond and adapt appropriately to different devices that are accessing the site, enabling all of the website content to fit on any screen size.
Responsive web design allows users to browse a website on a laptop, tablet or smartphone and have the same level of user experience on each. For example, your desktop website may feature content in multiple columns, as there is enough screen space to spread the content out horizontally on a computer screen.
On a smartphone however this would be hard to navigate and read so a responsive web design would automatically deliver that content in a different layout to mobile users that’s appropriate for the device and screen size they are using.
Responsive web design allows you to deliver different layouts of your website and content to different devices, depending on the screen size.
The Purpose of Responsive Web Design
With over half of web users now browsing on a mobile, why responsive web design matters is obvious. You simply can’t afford to not be targeting your biggest potential pool of visitors.
In today’s world people are accessing websites from an array of different devices and have come to expect a website that adapts to fit their needs, not the other way around.
Different devices also come with different expectations. For example, users who are visiting your website on their phone expect to click a phone number and have the option to make a call presented to them.
If a user was browsing your website on a computer however, that expectation wouldn’t be there. With so much online competition, it’s important that your website is meeting these expectations successfully.
A responsive website design is also crucial if you want to target search engine users through organic rankings (and we’re guessing you do).
Mobile users now make up the majority of search engine requests and Google have even gone as far to state that they now rank the mobile version of your website first. Therefore, if your mobile version isn’t up to scratch, you’re never going to hit the first page of search results for your target terms.
Another reason why a responsive website is essential is targeting users who have visited your website via your advertising. The majority of online advertising is now aimed at mobile users. Think social media adverts, Google ads and YouTube banners, everything is targeted to a user discovering you on a mobile device.
If a user is targeted by your ad and clicks through to your website, only to be met by an unresponsive design that doesn’t work on their device, what do you think they’re going to do? Leave. And you’ll have lost a potential conversion.
Responsive Web Design vs Adaptive Design
When you research responsive web design you may also come across the term adaptive web design and you’d be forgiven for thinking that this is the same thing, but not quite…
What is Adaptive Design?
Adaptive design refers to the process of designing and delivering multiple different versions of your website, each bespoke to the device and screen size being used to access the website.
Adaptive web design is made up of multiple layers and each device type (e.g. a laptop, tablet and smartphone) is presented with a new version of the same website.
Differences Between Responsive Design and Adaptive Design
Still unclear on the difference between responsive and adaptive web design?
Whilst an adaptive web design delivers a new, unique version of your website to every device, a responsive design simply adapts the rendering of a single page. With a responsive design, users will view the same overall design and layout on any device, it will just be rendered and resized to fit the screen.
If your website has an adaptive design however, the layout and design of your website can change considerably depending on the device used. For a responsive website, users will access the same basic file via their browser and CSS code will render the design to fit their device.
Adaptive designs however work by running a script that can assess the screen size of the device being used and then deliver the appropriate template.
Benefits of Responsive Design
Responsive designs are fluid and tend to require less upkeep and work than adaptive designs.
As they only require one basic design template, brands often opt for a responsive web design in order to ensure brand consistency online.
Responsive designs also tend to perform better in search engines and providing you undertake extensive testing to check how your website appears on multiple devices, offer an excellent user experience.
Components of Responsive Web Design
Now you understand what responsive web design is, we’ll cover the components that are necessary to create a website that responds to any device.
CSS & HTML
CSS and HTML are the foundations of a responsive web design. These are both “languages” that will control the layout and content of a web page and how it’s presented to the end user.
HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language) controls the content and structure of a webpage.
CSS helps to modify the HTML elements such as controlling the design and dimensions of images and text blocks.
In order to build a responsive website you need to combine both HTML to create your template and CSS to modify that template for different screen sizes.
Media queries work alongside CSS to help make your website responsive.
A media query will expand on the capabilities of CSS and allow you to use condition checks to alter web designs based on the properties of a user’s device.
It’s not just adapting the size of your website that media queries help with, they also allow you to adapt your website based on the resolution of the device screen that the end user is using.
Fluid layouts are an essential part of responsive web design.
Back when websites were viewed on desktop computers alone, you could simply set each static HTML element of your website to a specific size e.g. 500 pixels.
Now however, it’s simply not an option to set static elements to a specific size. Fluid layouts instead work by giving each element a percentage of the viewpoint width.
This will allow each element to increase or decrease depending on the size of the device accessing the website whilst keeping the layout design of the website intact.
Sometimes using a percentage fluid layout isn’t responsive enough. That’s where flexbot layouts come in.
Flexbot is a CSS model that allows you to lay out multiple different elements, even if their actual size is unknown.
Flexbot containers will expand the content within them if there is space, or shrink them if they need to prevent content overflow.
Images can make or break a responsive website. Large image resolution and pixelation can be the most obvious sign that a website has not accurately adapted to the device it’s being accessed on.
Responsive images work in a similar way to fluid layouts and use a percentage metric to adapt to the new size and layout being presented to the end user.
The percentage approximates the screen size and adapts the width and height of the image accordingly.
Many website builders such as WordPress will automatically include this functionality on their websites.
Speed should be one of your top priorities when building a website and especially when ensuring said website is responsive.
It’s perhaps hard to believe that if a page takes just 5 seconds to load, its bounce rate will be around 40%.
5 seconds might not sound like a long time but to a user accessing your website it’s an eternity.
Ensuring your website is responsive shouldn’t impact the speed of your website. Put simply, your website can’t take too long to establish the screen size being used and adapt accordingly.
Luckily there are various things you can do to ensure prioritising a responsive website design doesn’t negatively impact your load speed.
Optimising your images, implementing caching and improving your critical rendering path all help to speed up your website without derailing your quest for a responsive design.
It’s also worth remembering that mobile users often require faster results and responses than those using a desktop and they aren’t about to wait around for your website to load.
Examples of Responsive Web Design
Online magazine Wired is a great example of a responsive website.
The desktop version features several columns of content plus a sidebar which seamlessly converts into a single column on mobile devices.
Whilst the desktop menu is extensive, featuring multiple content categories, the mobile version shrinks down to simply include the logo and a menu icon.
Wired is a photo-heavy website and it uses a mixture of square and rectangle images on desktop to make the website interesting and engaging to explore.
To ensure the website is as responsive as possible these same images are cropped to the same size and shape for mobile users.
It’s perhaps no surprise that global ecommerce giants have mastered responsive web design.
Whilst their desktop website fills a landscape screen and includes multiple content sections such as recommended and trending products, the mobile version slims everything into a single column and focuses on key categories for users.
They also have a tablet version which removes the white space featured on desktop and includes a scrolling feature to save space whilst still presenting all the relevant content.
As you can see, there’s a lot that goes into creating a responsive website but the effort is more than worth it.
The fact is, mobile web browsers aren’t going anywhere. In fact, their number is only set to grow and if you’re serious about your online presence, having a responsive website is a non-negotiable.
Luckily for you, the KIJO team of experts know a thing or two about responsive web design. In fact, we simply wouldn’t consider building a website without ensuring it was responsive and functional on all devices.
Posted on by Jake Bostock