Why Responsive Design Isn’t Enough Anymore

Posted / 03 February, 2017

Author / Enginess

It’s increasingly evident that the limitations of responsive design mean that today and for the future, it very well might not be enough for a rich mobile user experience.

As we rush at an ever-increasing pace towards a mobile-first and mobile-only world, users are putting new pressures on companies to deliver unparalleled customer experiences – or else they walk. And as the demand for quality continues to grow, techniques and trends are becoming dated faster and faster. In 2017, one of the mobile experiences on the chopping block is everyone’s old friend, responsive design.  

Why did we love responsive design in the first place?

Responsive Web Design (RWD) has been around for a relatively long time now. And, until very recently, it has been the be-all and end-all of web design for obvious reasons:
  • Responsive design quickly and cost-effectively provides a fairly robust experience across all devices
  • It allows companies to manage multiple front-ends from a single backend, displaying all their content across all devices without any hitches or additional work
  • It lends itself to templating, as we’ve seen in the enormous success of RWD templates on CMSs like WordPress
And since it started back in 2001, it has kept up and continued to work relatively effectively. However, it’s increasingly evident that the structural limitations of responsive design mean that its days may be numbered.  

Why responsive design isn’t enough

New demands have pressured responsive design in a way that it has yet been able to respond to. Here are some of the pressures it faces.  

Personalization - Responsive design serves the same content to everyone

Apple Watch and iPhone The biggest problem with responsive design springs from its biggest strength – it serves everyone the same content (for the most part). If your goal is to provide the same shopping experience on a phone and a laptop, this is great. But the problem is that many sites can actually split user needs by device. Banks, for example, probably have different user groups based on device. Primary tasks for mobile users include checking their balance and transferring money, while laptop users want information about investment and savings plans. With other mobile solutions like apps and mobile websites, you can customize your content and site design based on what people are probably going to want to do on the site. With responsive design as it currently stands, it’s possible but requires investment.  

Customization - Responsive design won’t optimize for mobile speeds

With the content is always the same, your site weight is static, regardless of what network your user is on. There’s no ‘site-lite’ option for responsive websites. What this means is that if your users are browsing on mobile networks that are historically significantly slower (although this gap is closing) then they’re going to have to load oodles of stuff – images, fonts, rich interactions, for example –  effectively slowing down the user experience. And with speed an increasingly important ranking factor for Google AND important for your bottom line, that extra wait time can cost you some serious money.  

Differentitation - Responsive design can’t compete with the experience offered by apps

mobile app This is really what the problem comes down to. The prominence of apps in the mobile world has reached a point where other online solutions like responsive design simply don’t compare. And as app development costs continue to drop, they are increasingly the first choice for mobile experience. The ability to work offline, use push notifications, leverage in-app advertising, and provide a better, more stable mobile experience all means that mobile apps offer a tantalizing option compared to mobile responsive sites.  

How to save your responsive site

Fortunately, it’s not all bad. For starters, despite the problems above, responsive design (in conjunction with a robust CMS) remains a quick and effective way to get your website online and in front of users who you need to be in front of. A bad responsive mobile site is better than no mobile site. Second, for some sites, the problems mentioned above, like displaying the same content or optimizing for mobile speeds, isn’t so important. For example, if you’re a clothing ecommerce website, you need to load high res pictures of your products regardless. While you want to optimize as quick as you can, it’s not like cutting out images is really an option for you. Finally, apps. Yes, apps are an aggressive usurper of the RWD reign. But apps actually suffer a similar problem to RWD – they generally present the same content to everyone. As responsive design begins to leverage metadata information more, it can get to a place in 2017 where it’s showing a specific design and specific content to a specific audience. For example, if kids are using a site, it’ll be designed in bright, fun colours. Responsive design is uniquely positioned to take advantage of that sort of development – and it just might prove its saving grace.  

Wrap up

Responsive design is like an incumbent leader – yes, there are some scrappy upstarts nipping at its heels, and yes there are naysayers out there predicting its timely demise. But we think that the future of responsive design isn’t so doom-and-gloom. While RWD might lose some market share, there will always be an audience that wants a site that displays across all devices quickly and cost-effectively, and there will always be those who are looking to push the envelope on how personal you can get. Responsive design might change, but we think it’s got another year of leadership in it.

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