The latest in my series of blog posts inspired by the Greater Birmingham Digital Summit covers a topic discussed extensively throughout the day – the importance of mobile web design and responsive techniques.
In recent years a term I’ve been hearing a lot is “mobile first” – the principle of designing websites first and foremost from the perspective of someone using a smartphone. Mobile first websites present the mobile user with everything they need, on often tiny screens, without fuss or gimmick. Designing websites in this way is supposed to ensure that as you scale the design to accommodate larger resolutions, and eventually desktop screens, that the design will remain uncluttered and present every user with a streamlined, focused experience. As the number of people with smartphones is growing rapidly this seems to make perfect sense as many people now solely use their phones for web browsing.
Why use responsive web design?
So what precisely is a responsive website? Essentially, this is when a website is intelligent enough to know what size of display and resolution it is being viewed on, meaning it will adapt its layout to best fit the space available. This not only makes the website more visually pleasing, it also means that the person on the website will have a better user experience.
Whether you use the mobile-first principle or not in designing websites (we have experimented with both methods), there is no doubt that you must thoroughly understand who is using your website and on what devices and then use responsive techniques to build it.
Several of the speakers at the Greater Birmingham Digital Summit stressed the importance of mobile and reeled off some impressive statistics to drive this home.
- Google’s Pete Danks told us that nearly 50% of all users time online is on mobile and that 42% of B2B workers use mobile to research business purchases.
- Barques PR advised us that there are 36.9million mobile internet users in the UK (that’s 58% of the population) and that, of these, 18% have made an online purchase on mobile in the last month.
At Ballyhoo our approach is to design websites responsively from the get-go. On many projects the reason is clear and we have a wealth of Analytics data to back up why this should be the case. On new projects, where the data proving the need for responsive doesn’t exist yet, it’s a harder sell but ultimately, unless there are budget constraints, our clients accept the fact that their mobile audience is growing and that they need to be catered for.
In a blog post Anthony published earlier this year (Do I need my website to be mobile optimised?), he goes into more detail about why responsive is so important just now and why it will continue to be for years to come.
Test, Test, Test
One final thought I will leave you with on this topic is, if you do go responsive, make sure your site works on as many devices as possible! Your web designer should be entrusted to ensure this happens and they should give this the utmost importance (I’d be wary of anyone who doesn’t) but try visiting your website on as many mobiles, tablets and computers as you can for yourself so you understand how your website looks and reacts for your users. If there’s one near you, visit an open device lab where you can spend time testing your site across a wide range of popular devices, usually for free.
We established Longbridge Device Lab (the first open device lab in the Midlands) for this very purpose – to allow us to test our responsive creations across as many real-life mobile and tablet devices as possible to ensure that the websites we create display and function correctly for as many people as possible. To find out more about this free service for the local community please visit longbridgedevicelab.co.uk.