5 Things You’re Forgetting About Responsive Web Design

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Billy Fischer
Billy Fischer



responsiveResponsive Web Design (RWD) has officially won the 2012 Web Shiny Object of the

Year award. It’s showing up as a line item on RFPs and continually being hailed as “the only way” by bloggers and marketers. It also makes people drool, seriously. Just open up Starbucks.com in a presentation and start resizing the browser. You’re sure to hear ooh’s and aah’s and at least one “how do I get one of those?”

Don’t get me wrong: RWD is awesome. A Pew Internet report shows that 28 percent of Americans are using a mobile device as their primary way of accessing the web. RWD helps solve the problem of duplicate content, doubles the support and helps create a consistent experience for visitors across a variety of devices. However, I’m finding both clients and agencies are jumping to conclusions and not considering some key elements when planning a website project.

Big brands like Starbucks, Jack Daniels, Dairy Queen and Qdoba have adopted an RWD approach and that naturally means more and more clients will be asking for it. Instead of reacting, be prepared to lead your client in the discussion, explain the challenges and identify the solutions. Here are a few things you should definitely consider:

1. Budget

RWD costs more. The cost of a web development project is impacted by many factors including project planning, the number of design layouts, content and the total hours required. All of these increase in a RWD project. While there are many variables to consider, it may require two to three times the number of hours to complete a project.

On the flipside, the client will be developing and managing one website. The long-term value can be huge. Each of these considerations requires additional explanation to the client, and budget will be a huge part of that conversation.

2. Timeline

In most cases, RWD takes longer. As documented in a few early case studies, (here and here) the process tends to include a few additional steps. Prepare for a nice chunk of additional up-front planning, client involvement and adjustments to the typical linear process. You’ll also want to consider adjusting your development methodology, which can deeply impact your business. Many digital experts are recommending an agile approach over the waterfall method when it comes to RWD.

Regardless, you’re going to need to experiment. In a world of never-ending tight deadlines, this isn’t always possible or easy to explain to clients.

3. Content Planning

All too often content is handled with a “we’ll worry about that later” mentality. RWD is different. Be prepared to be planning for content at the very beginning of the project and for it to be a non-stop topic. This includes planning to deliver what is necessary at the right stages, navigation structure and images.

Many agencies have gotten used to creating content based on the design. With RWD the design will be driven by content, making the early development of that content very important.

4. Infrastructure Requirements

There are many infrastructure challenges that you’ll need to deal with. Images will be no doubt be one that needs to be addressed as resizing a desktop image to fit a mobile screen requires downloading the larger image first. Resizing these images forces CPU and memory, impacting load time and creating server load concerns. There are an increasing amount of development resources to help with this problem. A few good places to start: Adaptive Images by Matt Wilcox, Using SVG graphics today by Josh Emerson and Resolution independence with SVG by David Bushell.

5. Testing

If you’re used to testing in the final stages of the process, you will want to plan on adjustments to your process. RWD requires testing along the way (aka Agile) on multiple screen sizes and browsers. This will not only require a change in your process, but additional time for testing. Also, the ability to test on multiple devices can be challenging. While there are many resources coming out to help with this, none are as effective as testing on a suite of devices. As you can guess, this can be expensive to maintain as these devices are constantly evolving.

Regardless of the challenges, RWD is something you should be considering and planning for. What other benefits and challenges do you see with adopting a RWD approach?

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