2013 has been dubbed as the “Year of Responsive Web Design”. Word about websites becoming “responsive” started spreading last year and now has finally revealed itself. Web developers and designers are clamoring to produce websites flexible enough to be viewed through different devices.

So what exactly is Responsive Web Design?

RWD is the web community’s answer to the growing number of users accessing the web in mobile devices. Websites were traditionally created for desktops and laptops with large screens. They are simply not flexible enough to fit in a 4-inch mobile phone. RWD is a cutting-edge approach to the demands of web users who would jump from one device to another while anticipating the same experience.

The RWD solution caught the attention of businesses which capitalize in the web for their branding and marketing strategies. Simply put, almost all website owners are interested with this new technique in web development. Its one-size-fits-all nature is certainly attractive to businesses wanting to present their reputation to mobile users. Pete Cashmore, CEO of Mashable, summed up the public’s initial reaction and even went further to claim that 2013 is the year of responsive web design.

However, an article by Josh Chan entitled “Responsive Web Design is Not the Future” pointed out that RWD might not at all be the perfect solution that everyone is hoping it to be. Web performance, complexity, and expenses are some hurdles that RWD might not surpass according to Chan. He also cited JP Morgan Chase’s Quick Deposit mobile application, which targets users who use mobile devices for banking, as one example of functionality that RWD can never sustain. He added that innovation outside RWD might be overlooked due to the current enthusiasm over the technology.

With two sides presenting good points, what could happen to the development of RWD? Will the Responsive Web Design technique get past its infancy? Will it be smart for businesses to jump into RWD this early?

Web Performance and Speed

Chan mentioned that one disadvantage of having one website to cater to all users is the speed of mobile internet. A typical website may load faster in a desktop computer, but can be bloated in a mobile device. This results into slower response time.

Although mobile internet is certainly behind the usual wired connection, the current technology is actually quickly catching up when it comes to speed. A report made by Akamai.com about the “State of the Internet” shows the future of mobile Internet. A mobile provider in Argentina clocked in at 8032 kbps during the last quarter of last year. Like RWD, mobile Internet is still barely out of its infancy so you can expect better performance in the future.

Complexity

Aside from the bloat, some designers are also wary of RWD due to its complexity. Tim Kadlec’s “Blame the Implementation, Not the Technique” explains why this attitude towards RWD, or for any new internet technology, is baseless. With smart planning and creative design, complexity will no longer be an issue. Also, taking advantage of the new design trends such as flatter and simpler layout can help designers avoid complex systems.

Time, Money and Limitations

Since, responsive web design is still in its early development, current technology and techniques are still undeveloped, demanding time and effort on the part of the developers. This may intimidate small businesses as this means more money and resources needed for the development of their website.

With all the arguments thrown back and forth online, one question remains: Is it smart to try RWD now?

The key is to understand your business and your brand. Also, learn what you can about RWD and its benefits, as well as its downside. When then is the best time for you to consider RWD?

Start considering RWD if:

  • You want to stay updated and at the forefront of digital innovation.

  • You want to maintain a consistent brand, regardless of platform.

  • At least 5% of your audience is dedicated handheld users.

  • You can afford it. RWD is still very new and development can be expensive and time consuming.

  • You have a website with a focus on your products. Advertisements are still trying to cope with the sudden changes in design and layout,. So if your sales mainly come from promotions, you may want to reconsider it.

Responsive web design is not only the future, but it is slowly becoming the current trend especially with e-commerce websites. Here are a few businesses/brands (and it’s not just clothing brands that are into it) that are making RWD happen: Nationwide Ltd, Hiut Denim Co., Nixon, Starbucks, DMCI Homes Leasing and Indochino. Tip: adjust the size of the browser screen to see RWD in action.

Author bio: Anna Rodriguez is a training manager for a real estate company in the Philippines. She writes online from time to time and maintains her own blog.

header image courtesy of Paul Cross