Author’s note: There are many articles and blogs floating around the InterWeb today that provide a technical response to this matter. These postings deal heavily with grid-based frameworks, breakpoints, media queries, CSS3, HTML5, etc. and are intended for a professional web industry audience. I will attempt to explain the process from a more practical, customer-centric and non-technical perspective. If you are a marketing manager or small business owner and find yourself tasked with taking your existing website and making it responsive I hope that this article will be useful.
The Coming of Responsive Web Design.
In 2013, Responsive Web Design became the defacto industry standard in web development. Responsive Web Design represents a new approach to building websites that optimizes the user experience across all platforms and mobile devices. If you own or manage a website it is imperative that you invest in the mobile user experience, and Responsive Web Design is the most complete solution to this complex problem. A typical business updates its web presence on a fairly predictable cycle. On average, a corporate website will last between 2-5 years before it’s time for an overhaul. In the market now? No problem. Any web developer worth its salt will propose that the new site be built using a responsive framework. If you are currently in discussions with a web agency and this is not the case I have only one thing to say to you: RUN, Forrest! RUN!
Houston, we have a problem.
All is well for site managers that fit within this cycle and are ready to build their new site from scratch using Responsive Web Design. Ideally, a responsive site should be built from scratch as the design and the framework both strongly influence how well the site adapts to different devices and screen sizes. But what about those poor unfortunate souls that somehow missed out on the responsive coronation? You have a shiny, new (and most likely expensive) website that you took great pride in – at least prior to hearing about this new ‘responsive thingy’. You find yourself stuck with a web presence that was outdated and uncompetitive prior to it ever going live. And, perhaps worst of all, you did not plan for budgeting to fix the problem. What to do, what to do?
First off, DO NOT PANIC. Take solace in the fact that you are not alone. I receive several requests each week from managers in organizations large and small that are in this spot. There is a timely and cost-effective solution.
Transitioning into Responsive Design.
Let’s begin with the basic question that defines the problem: How can we convert an existing, non-responsive website into a responsive website?
Before we can begin to answer this question, we must determine what kind of website you currently have. Is your website driven dynamically by a content management system (CMS), such as WordPress, or is it a compilation of static, HTML pages? If you do not know the answer you will need to check with your IT staff or the original site developer as this is critical to the conversion process.
Now, to transition to a responsive design, we must:
- Assessment. To begin with the conversion process, we must first review the site design, layout and structure to ensure that it can fit within the responsive framework. This may require some tweaking of the original designs and layout, and not all sites are compatible for conversion.
- Information Architecture. Once we can confirm compatibility we will create interactive HTML wireframes that will demonstrate how the existing content will display for desktop, tablet and smartphones. The number of wireframes will vary by project and an understanding of user behavior via analytics will help us determine the types of mobile devices current site visitors are using. If, for whatever reason, you have a lot of users on Kindle Fire coming to your site (not that THIS will ever happen), we will need to ensure that the conversion takes this particular device into account.
- Design for Responsive. Next, we will rebuild the original design PSD’s templates to demonstrate the updated designs (based upon content and layout modifications required fro responsive conversion). As with the wireframes that precedes this step, we will provide design mockups for desktop, tablet and smartphone views. At this point, you will truly begin to see how your site will look and feel as a responsive website.
- HTML Prototypes. Once the design templates are approved, we go through the process of PSD2HTML, built upon a responsive framework (such as Bootstrap or Foundation).
- Convert the Code. We will then go through the tedious task of converting everything that was once fixed-with into a fluid, responsive layout. When moving from fixed layout to responsive design, we must establish “break points” that will trigger CSS style rules for different devices and screen sizes. Text is only one component of responsiveness. Due to the ever-increasing use of infographics, photos, and videos, images are also significant aspects of the responsive experience.
- Template Integration. As I have stated previously in this post, we must determine whether the existing site is static or dynamic. If the site is static, we will create responsive HTML template pages, which can be used in HTML editors such as Dreamweaver. Once these responsive templates have been introduced, the task of manually copying and pasting the existing content from each individual static page will begin. Based upon the number of pages the site has, this can either be a quick fix or a major headache. For dynamic sites, however, the solution is much more elegant. For website that use a CMS we need only replace the existing non-responsive HTML templates with the responsive HTML templates.
- Site Testing & QA. Finally, we will then test the converted site on multiple devices to ensure that everything is responding accordingly. The more you test your responsive site, the better the user experience will be in the end.
Although the solution is technical, the process of converting an existing non-responsive website to a responsive website, in practice, is more art than science. Each website is different and has its own unique challenges during the conversion process. For site owners like you, however, this means you no longer have to create a separate site for mobile users or make them suffer through an inferior mobile experience.