Carin van Vuuren wrote a guest post last month for Forbes.com criticizing the responsive design approach to building mobile websites. She offered neither compelling arguments nor viable alternative approaches. Her app-centric perspective looks backwards, not to the future of the Web.
Responsive Web design is a new design approach that enables Web designers and developers to build and maintain a single website to serve to all kinds of devices: smartphones, tablets, laptops and more.
Mobile adoption is skyrocketing, as is the diversity of mobile devices on the market – smartphones and tablets are currently leading multi-screen customer experiences. Today’s multi-device environment is bolstering mindshare and profile for responsive design because it offers a compelling promise to both website visitors and to those who build the Web: a single website that works on all devices.
Today, part of responsive design’s promise is fulfilled while part is still emerging.
Van Vuuren argues that the responsive approach does not take “mobile context” into account. Yet, a simple search returns many excellent examples of responsive design achieving success in a mobile context. Men’s fashion retailer,IndoChino.com’s mobile commerce website demonstrates that something as complex as shopping online for a tailored suit – from custom measurements and fabric selection – can be graceful, easy and intuitive on a responsive site. Sony.com is responsive. So too is Disney.com. President Obama’s re-election campaign raised $250-million via a responsive website.
A significant core benefit of responsive design, which van Vuuren disregards as a new fad, is One Web – the principle established by the W3C in 2008’s foundational Mobile Web Best Practices 1.0 – that recommends making, “as far as is reasonable, the same information and services available to users irrespective of the device they are using.”
The current alternative approach championed by van Vuuren’s companyUsableNet (and threatened by responsive design), is a balkanized, fractured Web – — M-dot websites for mobile, T-dot websites for tablets. The result of device-specific websites and user redirects is a collection of user-experience dead ends and broken links for customers, and strategic roadblocks for companies that will suffer lost customers and revenues.
The latest research from Google tells us that “90% of people move between devices to accomplish a goal, whether that’s on smartphones, PCs, tablets or TV.” The three most common ways users move between devices are:
- To search again on the second device,
- To directly navigate to the destination site, and
- Via email, that is, to send themselves a link to revisit later.
All these methods rely on link integrity across devices. The One Web approach ensures that the connective tissue of the web – links – always work just as users expect them to. They work in emails on smartphones; in search engines listings on tablets; in social media links on laptops; and on all devices. For online retailers, One Web ensures that product inventory is always updated in real-time, and that search engine listings lead to the correct product results. Even links shared in a multi-step purchase process involving more than one person – buying a car, choosing a gift, or shopping for vacation destinations – just work.
An approach that relies on M-dot and T-dot websites doesn’t work between devices, but this is precisely what van Vuuren espouses. When SmartTVs with web browsers emerge will we be expected to visit TV-dot websites to add to the misery?
People know better. That’s why responsive design and the One Web approach is ascending. It’s the only durable, flexible and future-proof approach to building websites for today’s multi-screen world.
The future mobile Web will be one where adaptive websites are indistinguishable from apps. They will work with responsive layout techniques and adaptive augmentations. I look forward with great anticipation to this future web. Thankfully, it’s just around the corner.