In just a few years, “responsive” has gone from a buzzword to the industry standard in website design — and with good reason. Responsive design offers significant advantages over traditional design, allowing for SEO improvements, streamlined development, and, of course, a better user experience across different devices.
To help you take advantage of these benefits and set you up for success, we’ll break down the basics of responsive design and offer some proven best practices.
1. Focus On The Content
What does content have to do with website design? A whole lot.
When potential clients visit your website, they’re not looking for a pretty banner or great graphics; they’re looking for the content you have to offer.
Make sure all your valuable content is easy to find, even when screen real estate is limited. Do this by ensuring that the header of the content and the content itself are visible on mobile devices without the need to scroll. (You have some leeway on larger screens, but don’t abuse it).
As we dive into some other aspects of responsive design, just remember what the user is really looking for — strong content that’s easy to find and just as easy to navigate.
2. Get To Know The Media Query
The backbone of responsive design is the ability to shift and format content depending on the size of the screen. In technical terms, this is known as “the media query.”
This terminology evolved from the term “media type,” which is a style sheet that determines how a piece of content is presented on different physical media, such as a screen, paper, or Braille device.
Media queries work in a similar way. However, instead of detecting the type of physical media, a media query detects the size of a screen. The website then makes the decision to render a specific style sheet for that specific screen size.
When considering a website redesign, keep in mind that you don’t want to limit your website to just three sizes — desktop, tablet, and mobile. Instead, you’ll want your site to scale appropriately for screens of all sizes, no matter their dimensions. That’s what a media query accomplishes.
3. Keep A “Mobile First” Mentality
When designing a responsive website, start with mobile styles as your foundation and add on additional columns and styles with media queries. This way, if someone lands on your site using a device or browser that does not support media queries, they will be able to see the mobile version of your site.
This is considered best practice for a couple of reasons:
- “Mobile first” design helps you focus on what really matters and account for limited screen real estate and limited attention spans. Maybe that random image of a truck on a highway isn’t really necessary after all.
- “Mobile first” design helps broaden your reach to devices that don’t support media queries.
4. Create A Flexible Foundation
We’re about to jump into the more technical aspects of responsive design, but don’t worry; we’ll walk you through everything step by step.
Are you familiar with set-width and fluid grids? The biggest difference between the two is the way they calculate the widths of elements on websites.
- A set-width grid calculates the sizes of elements by pixels.
- A fluid grid calculates the sizes of elements by percentages.
One of your main goals with responsive design is to make sure your images don’t exceed the width of the container and that they stay in line with the fluid grid. (You may come across websites that claim to be responsive, but if you see a horizontal scroll bar, they aren’t. Rigid images are most likely the culprit here).
In the early days of responsive web design, developers would use popular screen sizes that adjusted their set widths accordingly. This doesn’t work anymore — unless you plan to adjust your website’s width to the countless types of devices and computers out there (and the hundreds of others that get released every month).
5. Don’t Neglect The Navigation
This is one of the most important assets of a website. Unfortunately, it’s also one that most “responsive websites” get wrong. Don’t fall into this trap!
You don’t want your navigation menu to get in the way of important content, but you also want to make sure your visitors can navigate easily no matter what device they are using. So, you need to strike a balance by making your site’s navigation as intuitive as possible without making it obstructive.
It’s best practice to hide the navigation menu on smaller screens while allowing visitors to access it when necessary. This is accomplished with the “hamburger icon,” which has become the universal symbol for navigation. The visitor understands that they will see the full navigation menu when they tap this icon.
6. Optimize Your Assets
We cannot emphasize enough the importance of making sure all your assets — images, videos, PDFs, etc. — are fully optimized for all screens and devices. Having large assets that take too much time to load is probably the number-one reason visitors bounce from a site.
Don’t make your visitors wait to download a 6-megabyte image when a 300-kilobyte version would do and take a lot less time. Also, keep in mind that many mobile visitors have limited data plans, and you don’t want to inconvenience them (and their budgets) by serving up oversized files.
7. Make Your Site “Touch Friendly”
With people browsing more and more frequently on mobile devices, they are sacrificing the accuracy of a mouse or stylus for the convenience of using their fingers.
Therefore, every interactive element of your site — links, buttons, CTAs, etc. — needs to be “touch friendly.”
Provide targets that are large enough, and fluid enough, to make browsing your site as seamless and easy as possible.
8. Pick The Right Content Management System (CMS)
Ever since “responsive design” entered the marketing lexicon, companies have been launching new responsive CMS platforms at a seemingly nonstop pace.
While these new CMS offerings may have some enticing features, we wouldn’t recommend them, because just as quickly as these companies spring up, they can also shut down.
Make sure you go with a flexible and reputable CMS with a large audience and a good pool of developers. This will ensure your website gets the support it needs for years to come.
9. Invest In Testing Tools
Just because your responsive website looks great on your computer and smartphone doesn’t mean others will have the same experience.
You need to keep tools on hand to make sure your site is ready for everyone, everywhere.
Yeah, you might have the capability already to preview where you build, but why not test elsewhere to make sure you’re on point?
Ready To Get Responsive?
Following these nine steps won’t make you a design expert overnight, but they will guide you in creating a content-focused, user-friendly, and optimized responsive website.
If you have any questions on responsive websites, or are interested in digital marketing advice, feel free to contact us. Our team of engineers, technical writers and web strategists can help your business grow.