4 Challenges Web-Designers Face with Responsive Design

In 2012, more people than ever are accessing websites not from their computer, but from the palm of their hand. 11.5% of all web visits in the past year have been through hand held, portable devices; such as smartphones, iPods, iPads and other branded tablets, which is the largest percentage to date. And the numbers will only continue to grow. This is a huge change for the way we explore the Internet – and it also reflects on the way we are interacting with brands.

And it’s not something that’s gone unnoticed – in fact more and more web designers are noticing this huge increase and developing their projects and designs to adapt to mobile technologies.

While this does not mean that web designers are stepping away from desktop design – they are definitely stepping towards tailoring design for mobile access – something which responsive design is incredibly good for. But whilst responsive design may make it easier for designers to create sites that adapt themselves for mobile devices, it’s also creating some problems of it’s own, and there are challenges that designers face as they begin to embrace responsive design as a new way of working.

But first thing’s first, what actually is Responsive Design?

The concept behind responsive design and the reason it works so well initially and for a broad range of clients, is because it is a website that is designed so that it fits all screen sizes – whether it be a large desktop computer, a small laptop – or even a tablet or smartphone, in addition to this- it is designed to fit both landscape and portrait screens.

How can it do these things? Well responsive websites are designed with a flexible grid, which is pretty heavy design talk – but basically means that they recognise the unique, independent screen size for any mobile device or computer and scale the content accordingly.

So what are the challenges?

Time and effort

As you would expect with something as complex and modern as responsive design – it takes far more time and effort to plan and implement. In traditional wireframing, a designer sketches out how a site will look on one device, but with responsive designs there needs to be consideration taken for each and every application of the site. If a client is on a strict timeline and needs to get the site launched immediately then there may not be time to consider a responsive design.

Devices will always be different

Responsive design is great and it’s a huge step forward for the web design community – but the truth is – there will always be one or two devices which won’t translate. The time (and money) it takes to test your design on all these different devices may not be worth the effort – so if you’re a perfectionist, responsive design might be more stress than it’s worth.

Is it actually the right choice?

If a client does not actually want the same content on their desktop and mobile sites, then a responsive design would not make sense. There are numerous reasons why a client may want to limit the amount of content that accessible on mobile devices, for instance if the desktop site requires flash content. In cases like this – responsive design may not actually be the answer and you’ll have to make the judgment call. Is one responsive website enough? Or does this client actually require several sites tailored to each individual type of communication?

Media Queries

Responsive websites are great when they work but one aspect that determines their success is fact that they use media queries to decide the screen size and resolution of every visitor to the website and then display the correct layout which is tailored to that specific device. If the web browser on your computer or mobile device does not recognise media queries, then the page will not display correctly. This is especially true for desktop users with outdated operating systems.

While it is clear that responsive designs are not the best fit for every project, they are a powerful tool for the web design community. As more and more users begin to access content via mobile devices every day, we expect that responsive technology will continue to grow and will eventually replace traditional design all together.

This is a guest post by Elle, who works for PS Print as a designer. She loves sharing her knowledge about web design – and the joy (and pitfalls) that comes alongside it.