How to Convert a Non-Responsive Website into a Responsive Website

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 You find yourself stuck with a web presence that was outdated and uncompetitive prior to it ever going live.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:

    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. 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).
    5. 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.
    6. 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.
    7. 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.

Have something to say? Leave A Comment Below.

Frank Farris

Frank Farris is Founder and CEO of DeepBlue. He has been an active thought leader in the application of emerging web technologies since 1998 and is a champion of the movement to make the Responsive Web Design approach the new industry standard.

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Does Responsive Web Design Slow Down the Mobile Experience?

I am often asked whether or not responsive web design can slow down or sometimes simply degrade the user experience on mobile devices due to image file sizes and other technical challenges. The short answer is no, at least not if the website was built correctly. Let me explain…

For RWD Optimization we employ a “Progressive Enhancement” technique. Most companies that are not familiar with the inner workings of RWD tend to think that it’s a one size fits all approach. What we do is focus on enhancing the experience based on the capabilities of the browser/device. For example a small device would have a smaller/more optimized image presented vs a larger version that a desktop user will see. The way other companies do this is they will serve up the same image for desktop that they do on mobile. This kills both bandwidth and performance. To them Responsive is just about scaling content down. To us its about optimizing the experience for all users.

In general responsive web design, if applied correctly, can actually reduce load times.

Here are some optimization rules we may apply:

1. Images Optimization
The final aspect of Responsive Web Design is flexible images and media. Basically, this feature allows you to adapt your images or other media to load differently depending on the device, either by scaling or by using the CSS overflow properties. Scaling in CSS is pretty simple to implement for both images and video.

2. Media queries
Media queries are one of the cornerstones of Responsive Web Design. By adding some filter criteria around CSS definitions, we can control under which conditions those rules are applied to web pages. There are two places to define these criteria: using the media attribute of a link tag that references a CSS file or inline on a CSS file.

3. RWD Framework
We may use top RWD frameworks like Bootstrap, Foundation, Gumby Framework or HTML KickStart to organize the page structure.

4. Grid-Based Layouts
The grid layout helps define the size of content on any screen and can be used to define layout on different screen sizes. The Bootstrap, Foundation, Telerik Page Layout and other frameworks provide various sizes for their grid columns based on the size of the browser.

5. Minimizing HTTP requests
HTTP requests are sent to every device unless you tell it not to. JavaScript and CSS resources can help with this, such as Compass.
This is an open source CSS authoring framework that allows developers to create clean markup and create sprites and extensions simply and easily.

4 Enable Compression
We may apply JavaScript and CSS as compressed formats to speed up the loading.

5. Showing and Hiding Content / Conditional loading:
Not all content is intended for all browsers. In Responsive Web Design, this is the least technical design decision. What elements should appear on each of the page sizes? Not all devices need to display the entire website, nor should they. So we may apply some areas to hide on mobile devices that are not of significance to the mobile user.

 

Frank Farris

Frank Farris is Founder and CEO of DeepBlue. He has been an active thought leader in the application of emerging web technologies since 1998 and is a champion of the movement to make the Responsive Web Design approach the new industry standard.

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Responsive Web Design and the Acceptability Threshold: What You Should Know

2012 will be remembered as the year the mobile web emerged. In support of this bold proclamation, a recent survey found that the share of smartphones has surpassed the 50% mark in the US. If you own or manage a website for your business or organization it is imperative that you invest in the mobile user experience. Enter Responsive Web Design, a new approach to building websites that optimizes the user experience across all platforms and devices. RWD truly is an elegant solution to a complex problem in that it addresses the need for accessibility using a single-source of data. The concept and drudgery of having to create multiple versions of a website is now as dated as the VHS.

Responsive-web-design

But before making the decision to go all out RWD be forewarned – although indeed an elegant solution it does not imply that it is a perfect one. In order to embrace RWD you must accept the concept of Acceptability Threshold.

Acceptability Threshold

This concept acknowledges the reality that RWD comes with certain inherent headaches.  Although RWD enhances the user experience across multiple mobile devices, thereby greatly increasing usability and visitor satisfaction, it can also lead to imperfections, particularly in regards to what we call the ‘in-between’ views. The concept of ‘pixel-perfect’ must be thrown out the window – the days of Flash-based control of display are gone forever. Instead, site owners must first understand and then embrace the acceptability threshold.

OK, so what exactly is the acceptability threshold? Let’s define it:

Acceptability Threshold: The minimum level of acceptance of imperfection a website owner will tolerate in order to market the site with maximum confidence.

Not making sense? Think about acceptability threshold as a percentage. We all desire the things we buy to be 100% perfection at the time of the purchase. After all, it is common sense that we will not drive off the car lot with the doors missing (unless you are into that kind of thing) or move into a new home while the roof is still under construction. But would you accept that car if the satellite radio was not yet activated? Would you go ahead and move your family into that house if the landscaping crew was still laying sod in the backyard? The question is, what will you accept? What is your acceptability threshold for making such decisions?

A Website by perception is no different. Yet it is completely different. Often times, we see the unfounded belief that a website cannot launch until everything is 100% completed. Again, this makes sense in regards to obvious concerns. Does it function? Do the pages load? Do the images display? Are there obvious errors or typos. From a traditional desktop-only viewpoint, the acceptability threshold was fairly straightforward – a website is either done or it is not. A solid QA process was the solution. Do a little cross-browser compatibility testing, content review, load testing, W3C and 508 compliance testing and you’re good to go. But with RWD, things are not so black and white.

For starters, the fact that RWD sites are built using a grid ensures that that the website will display differently on different devices. Although this is the greatest benefit of RWD it can also be its biggest weakness. The layouts of responsive web designs are mostly fluid which is why designers do not have much control on how the ‘in-between’ design will look like. Also, it is quite time consuming for the designers to display all the replicas in advance.  Designers do their best to show both wireframes and mock-ups for multiple layouts i.e., smartphone, tablet and desktop. If the layouts are approved, only then is the responsive web designing strategy is implemented.

disadvantages of responsive web design

Secondly, the constant updates to browsers, API’s and operating systems, pose a particular challenge for designers and developers working with RWD. Your new RWD site might look awesome on most browsers when it launches, but ignore version updates and before you know it you will be hearing from Sally in sales that the site is not looking too hot on her Blackberry.

Third, factor in the staggering proliferation of mobile devices entering the marketplace created by several manufacturers using competing operating systems and you can begin to see how quality assurance can become an ongoing challenge. Here at DeepBlue, we have multiple devices that we use to test RWD – everything from an 80″ HDTV, Mac desktops & laptops, a few pc’s, iPads (iPad 1 & 3), Nook, Kindle Fire, and of course, iPhones (4, 4s and 5) and other Android based phones. RWD is every bit an art as it is a science. We literally test all of the afore-mentioned devices to ensure that the experience is optimal for each device. Sometimes we miss things (yes, we are human). I got a call recently from a client irate about discovering that their new RWD site was not displaying properly on the iPhone 5 in landscape mode using Chrome mobile browser v2.0. Although the fix was simple it required somebody to actually visit the site using an iPhone 5 under those specific conditions to discover the issue in the first place (reminds me of the tree falling in the forrest and making a sound story). The fact is, no one thought about it until somebody stumbled upon it. This occurrence made me ponder projections into the future. What will happen when somebody visits the website using the new iPad mini and there are some display issues? Despite the fact that the site was launched well ahead of the iPad mini’s announcement, it is not inconceivable – nay, it is almost predictable – that I will get that call in the weeks to come. After all, the promise of RWD is that it creates the ideal user experience for ALL devices. Right? Yes. No. Maybe.

RWD is an exciting evolution in web development in the mobile era, but it is not perfect. The solution for website managers is to ensure that their site is consistently tested ongoing and that their acceptability threshold remains consistent. A rule of thumb I like to use is 95%, meaning that the website displays optimally on at least 95% of all devices and view modes. To insist on 100% is simply not practical, and in a way it defeats the purpose of RWD in the first place. Understand the acceptability threshold.  Live it, love it, earn it.

reality

 Responsive Web Design requires acceptance of imperfection. The acceptability threshold manages the degree of imperfection.

Frank Farris

Frank Farris is Founder and CEO of DeepBlue. He has been an active thought leader in the application of emerging web technologies since 1998 and is a champion of the movement to make the Responsive Web Design approach the new industry standard.

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Responsive Web Design and Search Engine Optimization: All the cool search engines are doing it.

If Google jumped off a bridge, would you jump too? The answer, in terms of search engine optimization, is yes. For those of you unfamiliar with the dark arts of search engine optimization, or SEO for short, it is the process in which a website is systematically tuned to most efficiently match the criteria that the algorithms Google, Bing, and other search engines use to determine the relevance of your website to keywords in user searches. This is how search engines determine the display rank for websites based on each search query; and they have endorsed Responsive Web Design as the best way to make sure your website is king of the keywords.

I’ll start with a little background, since this is such a hot, albeit confusing, topic. Originally, these algorithms were not intended to be catered to. However, enterprising individuals discovered the potential that search engine optimization held, and began to wield this power for great evil. The world of SEO fell into darkness…until recently. Thankfully for those of us who hate our results being populated by irrelevant advertisement websites, Google and other search engines have begun taking a very active role in cleaning up their results. They are carefully monitoring SEO practices to make sure only the most relevant and useful information is displayed.

seo diagram

Search engine tree

All the cheap tricks, (link farming, keyword spamming, cloaking, etc.) that were being used to circumvent the original purpose of the search engine (locating useful and relevant content), have been debunked. The websites who succumbed to the cheap thrills of the dark side of SEO have lost their ill-gotten ranking, and all the capital their marketing team had invested in it.

These changes have ushered in the dawn of the Golden Age for legitimate search engine optimization. Google and Bing have begun defining best practices and distributing recommendations and guidelines to help aid us in our goals to develop proper SEO while building the best websites in the world; and it all begins with the foundation. This is where Responsive Web Design comes in.

In recent articles, Google and Bing have tapped Responsive Web Design as their preferred method for building a website that will be visited by any source of mobile traffic; which is any website that exists in today’s world. Google has chosen Responsive Web Design for many reasons, but a few major ones include:

  • A single URL is easier for users to interact with, share, and link to
  • Single URLs are much easier for search engine algorithms to process
  • A singular source of HTML makes crawling the website much easier, and avoids the need to reconcile findings from different bots searching multiple HTML sources
  • Content is contained in one source, enhancing keyword saturation without filler, and allowing search engines to index the content more efficiently and accurately

But what does it all mean?! Basically, the easier it is for search engines to read, analyze, and index the content on your website, the more precisely and confidently they can display that website with a high ranking when a consumer searches their engine using a related keyword.

Non responsive websites force search engines to try and reconcile content from multiple sources, and across a host of redirects, which clogs the algorithm. It’s similar to when those amazing customer service centers transfer you around for 45 minutes trying to find the “right person” to handle your problem. You don’t like it, and apparently algorithms don’t either.

All in all, SEO will still remain a moving target, and not everyone will follow the new rules, but any organization who wants to protect their web investments should do their homework when developing their SEO strategies. The major search engines have laid out their preferences for building effective long-term search optimization, and it begins with flawlessly executed Responsive Web Design.

Frank Farris

Frank Farris is Founder and CEO of DeepBlue. He has been an active thought leader in the application of emerging web technologies since 1998 and is a champion of the movement to make the Responsive Web Design approach the new industry standard.

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It’s Official: US Government Endorses Responsive Web Design

Still on the fence about RWD? The Federal Government isn’t.

Digital_Gov-229x300In a report entitled DIGITAL GOVERNMENT: BUILDING A 21ST CENTURY PLATFORM TO BETTER SERVE THE AMERICAN PEOPLE, the government officially endorsed the use of responsive web design as a better approach in providing greater accessibility to government information and resources.

Here are a few some excerpts:

Mission drives agencies, and the need to deliver better services to customers at a lower cost—whether an agency is supporting the warfighter overseas, a teacher seeking classroom resources or a family figuring out how to pay for college—is pushing every level of government to look for new solutions. 

Early mobile adopters in government—like the early web adopters—are beginning to experiment in pursuit of innovation. 

Customer-centric government means that agencies respond to customers’ needs and make it easy to find and share information and accomplish important tasks.

Using modern tools and technologies such as responsive web design and search engine optimization is critical if the government is to adapt to an ever-changing digital landscape and deliver services to any device, anytime, anywhere. Similarly, optimizing content for modern platforms, rather than just translating content from paper-based documents to the Web, will help ensure the American people and employees can access content regardless of platform. Agencies will need to keep current with the latest design concepts and refresh content delivery mechanisms to ensure the highest performance.

These imperatives are not new, but many of the solutions are. We can use modern tools and technologies to seize the digital opportunity and fundamentally change how the Federal Government serves both its internal and external customers— building a 21st century platform to better serve the American People.

So, why is the Federal Government, which typically lags behind the private sector when it comes to technology and innovation, embracing RWD? The answer is obvious if not paradoxical: RWD provides a mechanism that allows the government greater accessibility to its citizens, not merely the other way around. I will leave it to the pundits to dissect this statement, but there is no denying that RWD creates brand new communication channels that go both ways.

There are other factors that have contributed to this early adoption. Consider the government’s own stats:

  • Mobile broadband subscriptions are expected to grow from nearly 1 billion in 2011 to over 5 billion globally in 2016.
  • By 2015, more Americans will access the Internet via mobile devices than desktop PCs.
  • As of March 2012, 46% of American adults were smartphone owners – up from 35% in May 2011.
  • In 2011, global smartphone shipments exceeded personal computer shipments for the first time in history.

For me, the issue boils down to one word: accessibility. As we have worked with several Federal agencies over the years, including NASA, DoD, US Courts, EPA and the NCI, I have learned that accessibility is matter of constitutional rights. All citizens are entitled to free and open access to government documents and resources, and to deny even one of us that right is to discriminate against all of us. Hence the reason for 501 C3 compliance.

Not everyone owns a computer. I was in my early 20′s before I had one that I could call my very own. Websites have historically been designed for computers – traditional desktops and laptops – and this has long created the great digital divide that has existed between the haves and the have-nots. Enter smartphones. For many, the smartphone represented their first true web experience. Not everyone can own a computer, but just about all of us can afford a phone. And smartphones can display websites.

The end of the digital divide? Not quite.

One of the big problems with smartphone web browsing is the formatting and display of content. Navigating through them is a mess. As websites are still generally designed for desktops and their larger screens, the experience on a smartphone can be less than optimal. We can all relate to the frustrations – resizing, pinching, and panning in a sometimes futile attempt to find what we were looking for. Just imagine how this frustration gets compounded on a government website – typically not best-of-breed in the first place. The EPA website, for example, has in excess of 500,000 static web pages. Dozens of content contributors have worked for over a decade to add page after page in what became a complete discombobulation. Want to learn how environmental chemistry methods for soil and water are used to determine the fate of pesticides in the environment?

Good luck.

Responsive web design creates websites with fluid proportion-based grids, to adapt the layout and images to the viewing environment. As a result, users across a broad range of devices and browsers will have access to a single source of content, laid out so as to be easy to read and navigate with a minimum of resizing, panning and scrolling. For the private sector, a poor mobile experience can lead to loss of business. For the public sector, it can lead to a discrimination lawsuit as the case can be argued that the government did not take the necessary steps to ensure accessibility for everyone. For this reason alone, it is only a matter a time before all government websites – Federal, State and Local – employ responsive web design. I will take this one step further and boldly predict that the RWD adoption rate for government will either equal or surpass that of the private sector.

That’s not something you hear every day. Is it?

Uncle_Sam

Frank Farris

Frank Farris is Founder and CEO of DeepBlue. He has been an active thought leader in the application of emerging web technologies since 1998 and is a champion of the movement to make the Responsive Web Design approach the new industry standard.

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Responsive Web Design and Progressive Enhancement: The Right Approach

Progressive enhancement is a strategy for responsive web design that emphasizes accessibility relational to the user’s device. The aim is to allow everyone access to basic content and functionality of a website, starting with the smallest of devices (eg, your smartphone) and then gradually enhancing the experience as you move up to larger devices that have more advanced browser software, greater bandwidth and more powerful processing.

With progressive enhancement a basic markup document is created that is geared towards the lowest common denominator of browsers and features. Once this has been completed a developer can then introduce new functionality to the web page, using modern web technologies such as Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) or JavaScript. Only devices and browsers that support the advanced functionality will display them. The strategy is an attempt to subvert the traditional web design approach known as “graceful degradation”, wherein designers would create websites for the latest browser technologies, then remove features so that the site would function on older browsers and less capable devices. The core principle of progressive enhancement is that basic content and functionality should be accessible to all web browsers. Web pages created using progressive enhancement are by their very nature more accessible, because the strategy demands that basic content always be available, not obstructed by commonly unsupported or easily disabled scripting. Progressive enhancement focuses on the content, not the browser.

progressive enhancement

progressive enhancement and graceful degradation

From a philosophical perspective, progressive enhancement is vastly superior to graceful degradation. As opposed to punishing us for using less capable devices and older browsers the strategy rewards us as we progress through each platform. Progressive enhancement comes from a happy place. It’s a Zen thing.

Developing responsive websites with progressive enhancement should be a best practices standard for web design agencies. Sadly, most of them still cling to the old graceful degradation legacy approach, because that is what they know. If you own or manage a website in 2013 you should be very concerned with content availability, overall accessibility and mobile browser compatibility. I strongly recommend that you take the time to learn more about progressive enhancement and responsive web design as they relate to your overall web strategy.

Frank Farris

Frank Farris is Founder and CEO of DeepBlue. He has been an active thought leader in the application of emerging web technologies since 1998 and is a champion of the movement to make the Responsive Web Design approach the new industry standard.

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Don’t Be a Luddite! Embrace Responsive Web Design.

In 1779, legend holds that a youth by the name of Ed Ludd broke two stocking frames – mechanical knitting machines used in the textiles industry – in a fit of rage. Stocking frames represented the first major stage in the mechanization of the textile industry, and played an important part in the early history of the Industrial Revolution. To Ed Ludd and others of like mind, these machines forewarned of a dangerous new world in which machines would replace English textile artisans through less-skilled, low-wage labourers, leaving them without work.

Thus, the Luddite movement was born.

Dont be a luddite

Dont be a luddite

For years, the Luddite philosophy endured as the emergence of technology created a sense of fear and helplessness that coincided with the rise in difficult working conditions in modern factories. In modern usage, “Luddite” is a term describing those opposed to industrialization, automation, computerization or new technologies in general. Neo-Luddism is a viewpoint opposing many forms of modern technology; an inherent – perhaps misguided – belief that technology has a negative impact on individuals and communities. This dictates that humanity was better off before the advent of specific new technologies, labeling these technologies dangerous. These technologies are seen as so foreboding that it challenges faith in all technological progress. Because of this, Neo-Luddites are apprehensive about the ability of any new technology to solve current problems without creating more, potentially more dangerous, problems.

Technology Infiltration

During this era of technological proliferation across all facets of society and into our personal and professional lives, the luddite philosophy has manifested itself into a kind of sub-conscious, heuristic rejection of anything new. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – so they say. Although much of the trepidation with new technology can be attributed to the headaches and annoyance of actually having to use our minds to learn something, the intuitiveness and innovation in handling these emerging technologies makes this argument obsolete. Take the iPad Mini, for example. It is a device of supreme simplicity. Take it out of its box, hit the power button, and you are up and running. Anyone can learn how to use it in a matter of seconds. Period. No exceptions. We love our iPad Mini’s because they fundamentally destroy the Luddite living within all of us. Intuitiveness trumps primal fear.

imgres

Slaying the Luddite

This brings me to the point of this posting. Anyone can embrace and learn emerging technologies, but you must consciously confront your internal Luddite.

In 2013, Responsive Web Design will emerge as the new standard in web architecture, and DeepBlue will be at the forefront as a thought leader in this new approach. As I have proclaimed on several occasions, Responsive Web Design represents an elegant solution to a complex problem. The approach allows developers to create a website from a single-data source and adjust its layout accordingly to provide an optimal viewing experience – easy reading and navigation with a minimum of resizing, panning, and scrolling – across a wide range of devices (from desktop computer monitors to tablets to mobile phones). RWD satisfies the user experience demands of today’s multi-platform consumer. Is RWD perfect? No, and I have written previously on the subject of RWD pros and cons (see Responsive Web Design and the Acceptability Threshold: What You Should Know). However, it is our fundamental belief that Responsive Web Design is the right approach for all organizations, large and small.

responsive devices

Embracing Emerging Technologies

Although most of the folks I have spoken to regarding RWD are truly excited about the new approach, I have taken notice that a few remain hesitant. You see, Responsive Web Design represents a SIGNIFICANT departure from the “traditional” way of designing websites. It is a total reinvention of the web user experience and it is only a matter of time of WHEN – not IF – all websites of integrity and reputation go responsive. Companies, particularly the larger ones, tend to err on the side of caution and can be more reactionary than proactive when embracing new technologies. The Luddite prevails. They prefer to sit back and watch as the thought leaders seize the opportunity and establish best-practices. Then, they will play perpetual catch-up as market shares drop and they finally understand and embrace the benefits of emerging technologies and their impact. They allow the Luddite to cage the beast of Innovation until it finally devours its keeper. For any of you out there – CEO’s, Marketing Directors, IT Directors, etc. – who allow themselves to feel the trepidation of the Luddite and decide to sit this one out in 2013, allow me to share with you a small sampling of industry leaders that have already embraced Responsive Web Design:

There is a reason why these icons represent some of the most recognizable and loved brands in the world. They are thought leaders and innovators (although the case can certainly be made against Microsoft on this assertion  ) and they are not afraid to challenge conformity and set new standards. These organizations made the conscious decision to put their Luddite in its place and embrace emerging technologies, particularly Responsive Web Design.

As we head today into a new year full of questions and uncertainty, I challenge anyone out their hearing my words to heed my advice…

DON’T BE A LUDDITE!

Frank Farris

Frank Farris is Founder and CEO of DeepBlue. He has been an active thought leader in the application of emerging web technologies since 1998 and is a champion of the movement to make the Responsive Web Design approach the new industry standard.

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Responsive vs. Adaptive Design: Which Approach is Best?

Those of us in the web industry have become familiar in 2012 with a new approach to website development. Responsive Web Design, or RWD for short. The promise of RWD is that it allows developers like DeepBlue to create a website from a single-data source and adjust its layout accordingly to provide an optimal viewing experience – easy reading and navigation with a minimum of resizing, panning, and scrolling – across a wide range of devices (from desktop computer monitors to tablets to mobile phones). RWD provides an elegant solution for a complex problem – how to develop a single website that satisfies today’s multi-platform consumer. RWD is not a new technology; rather, it is a new way of thinking about the web. Although a website built using a responsive approach is self-evident when pointed out, we have found that the term creates much confusion with customers, hence the purpose of this article. To try to clarify, we will define the two main design approaches to modern website development – Responsive Design and Adaptive Design – and allow the reader to decide for themselves which approach is right for them.

Let’s begin with the basics:

Responsive Web DesignMultiple Fluid Grids

Adaptive Web DesignMultiple Fixed With Layouts

Confused? I don’t blame you.

RWD uses something with the obscure concept of fluid-based proportion grids. Instead of designing a layout based on rigid pixels or arbitrary percentage values, a fluid grid is more carefully designed in terms of proportions. This way, when a layout is squeezed onto a tiny mobile device or stretched across a huge screen, all of the elements in the layout will resize their widths in relation to one another. In addition RWD uses flexible images, and media queries, and when all three components are combined we create a quality experience for users no matter how large (or small) their display.

Make sense?

Let me try to put this in simpler terms: RWD websites are like silly putty, they have the ability to bend and curb, essentially morphing themselves into the proper dimensions for any web experience, including desktop, tablets and smartphones. For those of you who remember the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta – think Whatizit, just without all the horrible embarrassment it befell onto our fair city.

Olympics Logo

Got it? Good. Let’s move on.

Adaptive Web Design (AWD), on the other hand uses a fixed width layout in designing and developing a website. Instead of a responsive site that will adjust itself accordingly, the AWD approach is to create multiple versions of a website based upon its anticipated use. We used this approach for the Tennessee Aquarium website several years back. At that time, the iPhone had just made its glorious appearance onto the scene and users were excited about the ability to visit actual websites on their phone. Granted, of course, that the experience was not always optimal – I will not even mention Flash – we loved the fact that the geniuses at Apple were thoughtful enough to create an intuitive, gesture-based interface which allowed us to zoom in and out, making it possible to read content that was designed for a larger screen on our tiny 3.5 inch phone. For the time being, it was good enough. Soon, however, customers started complaining to us that their customers were complaining to them that their website was not very useful on their smaller devices. They asked us if we could create an alternative version of their website, designed specifically for small screens, squinty eyes and fat fingers. Witness the birth of the mobile-friendly website experience – a scaled back, dumbed down, easier to use version of what has become affectionately known across small screens everywhere as the ‘full site’. Even though the creation of a mobile version required additional cost, design, development and the creation of a sub-folder inside the CMS (thus duplicating content entry efforts), our customers were once again happy because, indeed, their customers were also happy.

Between the years 2006-2010, the Adaptive Web approach dominated mobile strategies. Essentially, we developed two websites – one for the desktop experience and one for the smartphone experience. Then, wouldn’t you know it, those geniuses at Apple introduced yet another disruptive product. The iPad. What exactly was the iPad? At the time, we were not quite sure. It wasn’t a laptop, yet it wasn’t a phone either. It was a brand new category. Inevitably, our customers started calling us asking about how we can help them optimize their tablet experience. Although the average website will default to its desktop version on a tablet, the content was not always an ideal fit, especially in portrait mode. Should we really build a third website that was optimized for tablets? Will customers actually pay for three websites? Things started to get a little murky, and that’s when we started hearing about yet another rumored device that would strike fear in the heart of designers – the iPad Mini!! Chaos ensued.

It all started to change with Responsive Web Design, an article by Ethan Marcotte on A List Apart. Essentially, the article proposed addressing the ever-changing landscape of devices, browsers, screen sizes and orientations using what you are now familiar with (thanks to this article) as the Responsive Design approach. RWD is still in it’s infancy and best-practices are being established as I write this article. It is by no means flawless – the concept of pixel-perfect has been thrown out the window along with Flash architecture. But it does represent the single greatest hope for a portable web that works the way we expect it to.

Earlier in this article, I offered to clarify the differences between RWD and AWD and allow you, the reader, to decide for yourself which approach is best for you and your organization. I realize that my intentions for objectivity may have been slightly influenced by my obvious subjectivity and preference for RWD. Still, I leave the ultimate conclusion to be made by you. If you were undertaking a new website, which approach would you choose?

RWD Rules!

Frank Farris

Frank Farris is Founder and CEO of DeepBlue. He has been an active thought leader in the application of emerging web technologies since 1998 and is a champion of the movement to make the Responsive Web Design approach the new industry standard.

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