The Architech Team | October 1, 2014
Have you ever been frustrated by the way a website looks on a mobile phone? Yeah, you’re not alone.
Sometimes the font is so small you have to zoom in 300% just to read it. Often, interface elements like links are crushed together making it impossible to target the right one with the tip of your finger.
The fact is, we’re at an awkward stage in our technological evolution, due mainly to the proliferation of smartphones and the tendency for companies to underestimate just how often people are using them to view websites.
The culprit is not necessarily the website – which was probably well thought-out from a desktop perspective – nor is the “solution” necessarily a native mobile app.
Most often, the missing key ingredient is responsive web design.
What is responsive web design?
Ask Architech’s Design Lead, Isuru Senagama, to define responsive web design and he’ll tell you, “It’s a fluid framework that lets you adapt your content, providing end-users with the best experience possible based on the screen they’re using to view your website.”
You’ve probably already encountered many instances of responsive web design sites and didn’t even know it – which is kind of the point. Responsive web design sites simply look right and work properly. They present the right information, with a design that is minimal and clean with large buttons when viewed on a smartphone, but then they transform completely when viewed on a desktop or tablet to offer a richer, more information dense layout.
To see a real-word example, look no further than windmobile.ca. WIND has a responsive site designed and developed by Architech, which presents users with a customized experience on different devices without sacrificing WIND’s brand presence.
How is responsive web design deployed?
If you Google “responsive web design frameworks” you’ll find many companies promising to enable your website with responsive design simply by implementing their solutions. It’s tempting to think that it’s that easy.
The reality is, as powerful as some of these frameworks are, they’re still just enablers of responsive web design, and not turnkey solutions. Installing them will not magically turn your existing site into a well-designed experience for all of your users and their devices.
“It’s a common misconception to think that a client can get three different experiences for the price of one,” Senagama points out. “Responsive web design is a significant investment and there is no such thing as an off-the-shelf, one-size-fits-all solution.”
How do I know if my business needs a responsive web design solution?
As with any of our client projects, we strongly recommend starting with the end goal in mind.
Our ideation sessions are the fastest way to discover the status of your business at that moment, where you need it be in the future, how your customers and employees fit into that vision, and which solution will bring these pieces together.
“Determining if you need a responsive web design implementation starts with understanding what the business requirements are and understanding the end user,” says Senagama. “If you know what the goals are, you’re in a much better position for making decisions. We can help with that process.”
Responsive web design vs. native apps
Apple has done a great job with their marketing slogan, “There’s an app for that.” Too good, in fact. It’s created a culture that positions the native app as a must-have for any business hoping to stay connected with consumers. But native apps are not a silver bullet to solve your mobile experience goals.
“Building a native app can bring with it a series of costs that, over time, can add up,” says Mahedi Polara, Architech’s Web Technical Lead. “Native apps often have heavy maintenance requirements as devices, screen sizes and operating systems change over time.”
In the early days of mobile web, native apps offered much richer experiences than their web counterparts. Since then, with the advent of new browsers and new languages such as HTML 5, the gap has narrowed dramatically.
Naturally, there are still times when a native app is the only way to go, but these scenarios are often highly specific. Sonos, for instance, is a wireless audio company that makes portable speakers you can place anywhere within your house and control via an iPhone or Android app. Because the Sonos devices are connected via your home’s WiFi network, a native app is essential to manage those connections.
This functionality comes at a cost: Sonos has to maintain four versions of their app – two for iOS and two for Android. When changes are made to either of these operating systems (or Sonos wishes to add new features or bug fixes) new versions must be released, often with a built-in delay as the new versions pass through Apple’s and Google’s verification processes.
Thankfully, with a responsive web design site, most companies can side-step these costs and complexities by building and maintaining one flexible web presence that they can update as often as they wish, knowing their mobile experiences will just work.
With a responsive site, you can even have the best of both worlds.
WIND determined that – because it’s a mobile phone carrier – it still needed an app presence for iOS and Android, so we employed something known as a “hybrid wrapper”. Essentially a mobile web browser contained within a native app shell, WIND’s app is nothing more than a window through which users interact with their responsive design site.
“Using a hybrid wrapper offered greater value and maintainability over time than developing a fully native app,” says Polara.
We’re here to help
Navigating the waters of device-friendly web design can be tricky. Why not book an ideation session with us and discover the Art of the Possible? Whether you need a native app, a responsive website or even a hybrid approach, we’ll make sure the solution always keeps your customers and business goals top of mind.