Responsive Design

When we talk about responsive design, we often focus on phones. This makes sense because smartphones are most unlike the type of devices that we’ve designed for in the past — that is, desktop screens. Creating one website to be marketed and managed and to deliver a high-quality experience to all devices, from desktops to smartphones, is an excellent way to demonstrate the flexibility and power of responsive design. But for this client, phone users were seemingly not a factor. Luckily, responsive design is about so much more than phones. In speaking with the client, I discovered that a complaint they often receive from customers is that the website appears “small.” The reason is that it had been designed to a fixed width many years ago — so long ago, in fact, that it was built for an 800 × 600-pixel resolution. When a user on what is now a typically large desktop screen visited the website, they saw a very narrow column, with a lot of unused space on either side. Yet, the company still had a number of other visitors on old desktops and laptops with low resolutions. So, merely making the website bigger wasn’t the right solution. The company needed a website that would work well both on large screens and on old small screens. This was a problem that could absolutely be solved by a responsive design. Instead of focusing on phones and small screens, I explained to the client that a responsive design would enable us to effectively present a layout for today’s large desktop screens and also reflow to accommodate laptops and old desktop monitors that don’t have a high resolution. As we demonstrated a responsive website for the client using a large desktop screen and a much smaller laptop, they got excited and told us that they had hated the “smallness” of the website for years, but their previous designer explained to them that, to support visitors with old computers, they had no choice but to design for this “lowest common denominator.” Responsive design would solve this problem, and by this point our client was pretty much on board because they saw that it solved a problem they had (the “smallness” of the website), without addressing a problem that they didn’t think needed to be solved (support for mobile devices).

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