Being Truly Responsive

I see a lot of bad mobile experiences. You probably do as well.

There are any number of reasons why people make poor decisions for how their brand or company will be represented on mobile. Probably the same number reasons why people make poor decisions about digital in general. But I think we can sum up all of these reasons under one umbrella issue: not putting your users first.

Often companies create mobile the same way they did sites: they decide they need to be on mobile, and they want to ‘get on’ mobile as cheaply and quickly as possible. The trouble is, if you build a crappy mobile experience it’s going to hurt you more than help.

Responsive design emerged in the last few years as a panacea for organizations looking to get mobile experiences done quickly and easily. You build a ‘responsive’ site that changes layout to fit any device: one site fits all!

If only it were that simple.

In the mobile space you have three options:

  1. You can build a responsive site, which is a site that changes it’s layout depending on the resolution and aspect ratio of the user’s browser window. The site usually presents the same elements no matter what device is used to access it, but those elements are rearranged. For obvious reasons, this is a compromise. The mobile experience is not usually as good as the desktop experience. The upside is that you only have one site to maintain, and if you produce a lot of content that’s a good thing.
  2. Another common tactic is to build a mobile site. These sites can be responsive to orientation of the device, changing layouts depending on how the user is holding their phone or tablet. To do this well you really have to understand your users – are you giving them everything they need on mobile?
  3. Lastly, you can build an app. You may still need one of the options above if you build an app, which is part of what makes apps more expensive – they’re often a supplement, not a replacement.

Deciding on the best option depends on a small number of factors, and making decisions based on these factors can really help clarify your mobile strategy.

  1. How much of your traffic is mobile? If you don’t know, find out. The ratio of mobile traffic to desktop traffic determines how mobile-oriented you need to be.
  2. What are people doing on your site? People use their phones differently than their computers. For some companies people may only be looking for contact information or operating hours. For others, they may be comparison shopping.One way to figure out what users want from you is to go through analytics. Another way is to put yourself in your user’s shoes, and yet another way is to ask people – user behaviour is pretty consistent, and you don’t need large sample sizes to get a good indication of what mobile users care about.
  3. What’s the competition up to? Are there areas where you can make something more convenient for your customers or clients? If you can use mobile for competitive advantage, you have a reason to at least do some cost-benefit analysis.

In future articles I’ll be talking about how to budget for mobile, how to check out analytics, optimizing experiences, and ways to analyze your competitors. Stay tuned!

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