Tom Cowle explains how responsive web design is revolutionising the web landscape.

In the last year or so you’ve probably heard the term ‘Responsive Web Design’ – it’s the new methodology that unifies the web browsing experience across devices. But what exactly is Responsive Web Design, and why should you consider it for your own website?

It all starts with the proliferation of ‘the device’ – smartphones, tablets, even SmartTVs are all used for web browsing. PC manufacturers have seen sales plummet and are adapting their products – either by diverging them from devices into powerhouses with huge screens, or by converging, with tablet-like laptops and foldaway keyboards. The result? A whole new range of screen sizes and device capabilities the like of which has never been seen before.

Suddenly business owners are finding that their fantastic website isn’t coping so well in the new world; on mobiles text and navigation is shrunk down beyond usability – leading to an endless cycle of ‘pinch and zoom’ – navigation breaks because it relies on a mouse, not a new-fangled touch screen. On large screens websites sit hopelessly amid a sea of screen – so something needed to be done.

Of course a lot of websites employ a ‘mobile version’ so that smartphone users get an experience optimised for them. This is all well and good – but mobile sites have their down sides. For starters there’s the additional time and money needed to maintain two sites instead of one. Then there’s that annoying thing where the mobile site doesn’t allow you to find or do the same thing as the desktop version – so you find yourself having to view the desktop version on your phone, which in most cases doesn’t end well. And where do tablets fit into all of this? Do they see the shrunken desktop version, or the oversized mobile version? In either case the solution is clunky and inelegant.

Step in Responsive Web Design.

Responsive Web Design or RWD allows one website to work on any device. There’s only one site to maintain, and regardless of which device a visitor uses, they can find the same information and functionality.

Responsive sites adapt themselves to fit the size of screen and orientation (portrait or landscape) of the visitor’s device. Text and images resize to suit the format. Whole layouts re-arrange themselves to fit the space they have available. Navigation is hidden away for small devices to save precious screen real estate for content.

The end result is a unified web experience. No matter which device a visitor used to view your site, you know that they’ll get on just fine…