May 22 2013

Reimagining Responsive Design


Over the last three years, as the sizes, shapes and connectivity of web enabled devices have proliferated, responsive design has become an important framework for delivering usable experiences to users everywhere. But as valuable as responsive layouts have been, the early realities of poor mobile connectivity and sub-3G download speeds have entrenched a purely reductive mindset when it comes to responsive design.

With LTE, faster wifi and more powerful browser tech, however, we finally have the chance to imbue responsive design with its true power to enhance the experience on any device. Responsive doesn’t equal reductive. We think it’s time for Responsive+, a level of design thinking that brings optimal experiences to each device.

There is massive opportunity for both the user and the business on the table when we start delivering a richer experience crafted for mobile. Mobile use and tech have changed drastically since responsive design debuted; to wit, 35% of moms using mobile to shop, or research shopping, every day. The conversion improvements seen by ecommerce companies who implement responsive design are another clear sign that it’s time to rethink what exactly we’re delivering on these devices. It’s time to abandon responsive reductionism and instead think Responsive+.

So what is Responsive+ exactly? It’s not a set of particular tactics; it’s a shift in our mental model when it comes to responsive design delivery. Rather than the removal of elements from the “full” site we need to embrace a mode in which design enhances and improves the mobile experience. What does that look like in practice? The sky’s the limit when it comes to specific features and tactics. We humbly suggest a few as starting points.

  • Interaction design – Go beyond the standard smartphone UI patterns to truly intuitive interactions. Take the lead from apps like Clear and Rise and ask where can we replace clicks with swipes and other interactions that are easier and more useful without a mouse.
  • Leverage the platform – Mobile phones provide so much additional data over traditional desktops. Why ask a user to type in their city in a mobile form. Populate it with their current GPS coordinates and let them change it if needed. Gyroscopes, navigation, cameras among other technologies, provide new, creative ways to craft the user experience.
  • Appify it – Users love their apps. How can you deliver an app-like experience via your mobile designs? Changing links to easy-to-push buttons, using HTML5 for continual scroll and other tweaks can make the experience feel more native and satisfying.

Responsive+ is about taking a hard look at the assumptions we carry with us into mobile design and being creative with how we leverage the platform to create a high-quality experience. As mobile continues its ascent in the user experience hierarchy, it’s more critical than ever to scrutinize not only our designs, but our beliefs about mobile.

Responsive design needs to mature, and an important next step is evolving from reduction-based thinking to focusing on optimization. How can we use responsive design to deliver the optimal experience on a mobile device, rather than just a minimalist one? How can we shift our thoughts from starting with what we have to remove from the mobile experience, to focusing on what the optimal experience can be? Once we make that shift we can ensure we’re not limiting what’s possible, but be confident we’re delivering the best experience possible.

About the Author:

Morgan heads up marketing at digital-telepathy. Find me online at Google+.

Leave a Response

5 Responses

  1. May 22 2013
    Jeffrey Samorano

    I couldn’t agree more. And, with all these new developments coming from DT labs, the mobile web WILL be a lot more intuitive and accessible. One thing that i do appreciate about the “reductionist” thought is that it does force you to really think about what is important about your website’s purpose. However, that reductionist thinking usually comes about from the ‘need’ to reduce the content to fit a mobile screen.. If there were no need to reduce the content then, of course, reductionist thinking would simply vanish as we discover methods for expanding, hiding, swiping, pinching, pushing and auto populating content into and out of view.

    Great article!

  2. May 24 2013
    Surrey Web Design

    It is true that the responsive web design is a current trend, but I dare not say it is the future at all. The responsive websites are not much smaller in download size when viewed on smaller devices or screen resolutions when compared to being viewed on a desktop browser is the main reason behind it.

  3. May 25 2013

    Hi Morgan, I think you just came up with a term for the very near future: Responsive +! I totally agree with you we should stop removing elemants from the website by the way and I think the frame of mind for the near future should be responsive + (love the term already :-) )

  4. May 29 2013
    Responsive design

    I believe this can actually be the next step in responsive design practices. It may turn out in the near future that websites won’t be adjusted for mobile devices according to their desktop look but viceversa – judging by the continuing popularity growth for mobile devices among all levels of users.