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What Clients Should Expect When Building a Responsive Website

By Alex Charalambous

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Building a website that works well on nearly every device is critical in today’s multi-screen world. Responsive web design provides a viable solution and has become a “must have” for new websites. But while the concept seems simple, the planning and execution isn’t.

While most clients looking to redesign or build a new website understand the need for responsive design, they don’t always understand how the process is different from building a non-responsive website. Responsive design requires more planning, design time, development and testing. So if you’re looking to go with responsive design, you need to be familiar with how the process is different and what you should expect overall with a responsive website.

Understand how the web design process has changed

Responsive web design has been an enormous learning process in the web design community. And every agency is still trying to figure out the best way to approach it. Before responsive, websites were much simpler: design the site, get it approved by the client, build the site and then launch it. Now, technology has evolved—there’s more functionality, capabilities, integrations and design elements, not to mention the ever-expanding content management needs and the long list of devices and browsers to support. Because of this, responsive web design can be challenging for all parties involved.

Set the right expectations going in

Responsive design has been a game changer for web design, but there are limitations to what responsive can and should do. What might be possible on desktop might not be possible (or at least worth the time to develop it) or practical on mobile. And while the goal is to make the user experience as seamless as possible from device to device, you simply can’t expect to perfectly replicate the desktop experience on a mobile device (nor should you want to). There’s going to be subtleties, variations and differing content priorities—and that’s okay. The needs and interests of a mobile user aren’t necessarily the same as a desktop user, so that should be taken into account during the design process.

Plan to focus on content hierarchy

When planning a responsive website, it’s important to determine what content is essential for mobile and what isn’t. Think mobile first. What’s your audience going to your website for on their mobile device vs. their desktop computer? For example, your phone number might be essential front and center on mobile, but not necessarily on desktop. It’s important to think through each device—mobile, tablet and desktop—in terms of content hierarchy when planning the website.

Content hierarchy is also important to discuss before the design phase begins. Once you’ve got a site map that shows the site architecture of your website, you need to decide the content that’s most important for each page. A mobile device is narrow so it forces content to be presented in a single column. Because of this, you’ll want the most important content first, not necessarily an image or graph that might appear first on the desktop version.

Expect more design and development time

The main difference with responsive web design is that designers have to design for at least 3 major breakpoints—desktop, tablet and mobile. So instead of one design for the desktop version of the website like in the past, responsive design requires considerably more design time. Along with more design time, the different breakpoints for responsive websites require more time for developers to code so that the website adjusts depending on the device it’s on. Not to mention the effort needed to make the site work well in all the various browsers and their respective versions.

Be ready for lots of testing

Your website should look amazing, but it should also function properly when it’s launched. So that means it should be tested on all the major devices (i.e. iPad, iPhone, Android, etc.) and browsers (i.e. Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Internet Explorer, etc.). This step is critical since every device and browser will render the website differently. Once everything has been tested and works the way it should, then and only then is the website ready for launch.

While building a responsive website can be challenging, they’re absolutely needed in today’s multi-screen world and worth the effort. Even though they cost more, they’re an important investment for your company’s online marketing presence. A responsive website will help your company meet the growing demands of mobile visitors and provide a good user experience for all of your prospects and customers.

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