Re-Thinking Responsive Design

Chippy Responsive

She’s Gone…

Unless you’ve been in hibernation, you know that over the course of the past year or two, everybody and their mother has been hopping on the ‘Responsive’ bandwagon. Now, don’t get us wrong, we don’t think that’s a bad thing. On the contrary, it’s really exciting to see people finally embracing the web’s inherent fluidity. At Squeaky, we see this as an opportunity to re-think our design philosophy.

First and foremost, you have to think about your audience—or any audience for that matter. When approaching a project, the first thing we figure out is what content drives a user to a client’s site. Content is what brings people to any website and responsive design should be a tool to ensure that content reaches the largest audience possible. While some may see responsive web as a cool feature (or an afterthought), at Squeaky, we see it as a need to change the way we look at the web and how we design for it.

In our minds, the focus of web design needs to shift and become less about simply dazzling—that part we’re already awesome at. Not to discredit the importance of great design, but to ensure we reach the largest audience possible, we must first prioritize content, the user experience and performance. Content is the reason your users are there in the first place, the user experience and performance is what creates their opinions of the site and keeps them coming back. Solving these concerns are the first and most important step in designing a great responsive site.

We work to achieve these goals by taking a content-driven and mobile-first approach to design. In other words, we recognize that no single user comes to a site with the same expectations, goals, or needs. So, we try to assume less about the user and begin working within the constraints of the “worst-case” scenario, or in this case, mobile first.

Instead of taking a cool desktop design and trying to squeeze it down to mobile,—which is how a lot of clients would like to approach responsive—we design the mobile portion first or simultaneously with the desktop site. This forces us to think about different problems that need to be solved in order to successfully design a great site when the screen size and connection speed is unknown. Once the foundation is built, we begin dynamically adding layout changes, improvements, and features as we move towards the desktop site.

Content is the most important part of site development and we allow that to drive the direction of our design—not the other way around. By driving our design around the content, we can embrace the unpredictability and fluidity of the web and create designs that are device-agnostic; future-friendly and re-flow to the size of any screen. This ensures the user experience is as enjoyable as possible and the site looks good on every device and not just the most popular ones.

Performance is a huge aspect of the user experience that is all too often ignored. Studies done by Akamai showed that 74% of users will abandon a site if it takes more than five seconds to load and other studies are showing that 86% of responsive sites are just as large and send the same amount of files and assets to the mobile version as they do to the desktop version of the site. That’s a huge problem and we believe that in order to create a positive user experience, it’s crucial to make performance a priority. Our designers and developers work closely together throughout the process to think of creative and efficient ways to tackle these problems. Designers are working with performance in mind from day one and developers are using techniques such as conditional loading, feature detection, minimizing HTTP requests by utilizing CSS techniques, image sprites etc.

As designers and developers who understand the user and these problems, we try to use responsive design as a way to solve them, not simply a feature to dazzle you.  None of us know what the future will bring, but responsive design is the first of many tools we can use to create rich experiences in a world where we don’t know what device or gadget we’ll be waiting in line for next.

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