Ever notice how some websites change sizes or orientations based on whether you’re viewing from a large desktop or a small smartphone? This functionality has a name — it’s called responsive web design, sometimes referred to as “RWD.” Any website these days should be developed using responsive design principle. Have questions about this highly adaptive technology? In this handy guide, learn what responsive design is, why any reputable web design agency should use it, and how it benefits you and your business.
The history of responsive web design
It’s only been in the past several years that responsive web design became a standardized fixture of the internet, but you may be surprised to learn that the concept is older than you think. The first site to feature a responsive design was audi.com — all the way back in 2001! That is pretty impressive considering that the major responsive web design technologies that allow us to build these sites (such as CSS media queries) were not cemented until early 2009. Experimental developers will always push the bar years before these experiments become standards, but responsive web design wasn’t in strong demand until the dawn of the smartphone, specifically the iPhone. The first iPhone was released in 2007 — an event that completely changed the way people use the internet today. Two years later, the iPhone 3GS was released, which coincided perfectly with advancements in responsive web design that enabled developers to create sites for these devices. Back then, most responsive sites were developed using two code bases, one for desktop browsers and another for mobile devices. The multiple code base approach has been almost eliminated by further advancements in responsive web design, but it was a major stepping stone that has brought us where we are today.
How does responsive web design work?
Unlike the multiple code base approach, today’s iteration of responsive web design allows developers to use a single code base that adapts to all different kinds of user perspectives. With a responsive site, all users receive the same content from the same URL, but the site’s style sheet is structured in such a way that modifications may be made based on the type, resolution, or orientation of the device being used by the site visitor. These kinds of modifications may include things like changing from a desktop-friendly horizontal navigation menu to a mobile-friendly vertical drop-down menu or scaling up font sizes on mobile devices to improve user readability. Because the rendering of a responsive site can vary greatly from one device to another, developers must test the design on as many devices as possible. This is obviously a very daunting task, but resources like Responsive Design Checker or Chrome’s developer toolbar Browserstack allow you test your site live from one place — thus eliminating the need to go out and buy every new phone and tablet on the market. If you’re interested in learning more about how responsive web design works from a developer’s perspective, check out ResponsiveDesign.is.
Why do I need a responsive website?
Responsive websites not only look attractive — they offer several critical benefits over non-responsive sites. If your site isn’t already equipped with responsive technology, here are four reasons why now is the time to make the switch:
1. It provides an unparalleled user experience across different devices and resolutions.
The number of mobile users is higher than ever, and as that number continues to grow, businesses must be ready to meet those unique needs. Luckily, responsive sites are compatible with both desktop and mobile users, so none of your potential customers are left out.
2. It speeds up your website’s loading time.
Ever navigated to a site and clicked away because it took too long to load? You’re not the only one. There are several tactics for increasing load times, and implementing a responsive site design is one of them. Responsive sites are much faster than non-responsive sites, which means your visitors are less likely to give up on you.
3. It’s great for search engine optimization (SEO).
Google rewards responsive sites with better search engine rankings. If you’re concerned about the SEO strength of your site, having a responsive website is crucial. In 2012, Google’s Pierre Farr stated that the search engine favored responsive websites over sites that merely had mobile templates. Why? Because it’s easier for Google to crawl one URL as opposed to the multiple code base approach that requires separate URLs for desktop and mobile versions.
4. It simplifies the development process.
Responsive design isn’t just great for site visitors — it also streamlines the web development process because web developers aren’t required to create multiple sets of code for different devices and screen resolutions.
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