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What Do Designers Mean When They Talk About Responsive Design?
A monitor, tablet and a mobile phone on the table

What the heck is responsive design?

Let’s look at Google Trends, just for fun:

Responsive design google trend

Responsive design google trend

Google users became very interested in this thing called “responsive design” during the beginning of 2011, which wasn’t very long ago. What happened?
At the same time, smart phone adoption was ascending at what felt like warp speed. Prior to this, if you had a smart phone and it didn’t work properly on certain websites, web designers and developers didn’t care very much because there weren’t very many people running around with smart phones anyways.
Now smart phones are everywhere, and competent web professionals really want to make sure the websites they build work on all screens, not just some of them.


What do screens have to do with it?


Before smart phones conquered the world, computer screens ruled the Internet. One screen was about the same as the next, and screen resolution increased as time passed. What’s the difference between a computer screen and a smart phone screen? Not only is a smart phone screen smaller than a computer screen, it’s rotated 90 degrees. Viewing a website on a large monitor is a very different experience from viewing the same website in portrait mode on a smart phone. Designers had no choice but to adapt to the new smart phones everyone suddenly had in their pockets.
Websites needed to be more than just websites. They had to be experienced on the go as well, using much smaller machines. These tiny machines that fit in our pockets, that enable us to do so many wonderful things, are nothing more than small computers. How “smart” are they, anyway? Even the discontinued iPhone 4 was over 1000 times faster (1 GHz CPU) than the first microprocessor, 1971’s Intel 4004 (740 kHz). If you happen to be reading this article on your smart phone, then the computer you hold in your hands is faster than the computers that were current during the Apollo era.
The current iPhone 7 is faster than many of the office computers used in small and medium sized businesses all over the world on a daily basis. Smart phones are extremely powerful devices that demand a particular set of design techniques from the websites their users want to access, including the website that helps power your business.
This is what we mean when we talk about responsive design. It’s a set of techniques web designers and developers employ to ensure a website responds to the end-user’s device, serving up an experience that works regardless of the device chosen.


Creating responsive websites


In the beginning it was difficult, and there were a great many things that had to be figured out. What should images do when the screen size changes? What needs to happen with the menus? The buttons? The content? Are mobile users different from desktop users? What do mobile users need? What do they want? What do they think they want and need?
Before teams could start designing for mobile users, they had to figure out what mobile users needed. To do that, they needed data. It took a few years, but today most CMSs, including WordPress, are responsive by design. The responsiveness comes pre-packaged and built into most templates, but it often takes a considerable amount of work to optimize results across as many devices as possible.
You can take responsive design for a test drive right here, assuming you’re using this article on a desktop computer, by grabbing the corner of your browser window and shrinking it. You can still see everything, as well as access all of the information you need, no matter how small you shrink the screen. The better the design, the more intuitive it is for users to get around on a website, regardless of the device they have chosen to carry around with them.


Maintaining cross-browser compatibility


Responsive websites don’t just respond to screen size, they also respond to the browser the customer uses. Most use Chrome or Safari, but others still use Firefox, Opera, and even Internet Explorer. Many of our customers are surprised to find out how many of their customers are still using Internet Explorer!
Regardless of how rich and fully featured your website is when viewed on a desktop and the latest smart phones, it’s a good idea to have something for everyone to experience, not just the cool kids who happen to own the latest, bleeding-edge devices. That’s why we design websites for all screen sizes and all browsers here at Gilmedia, based on your business needs. We aim to ensure all of your customers can experience your business on the web, not just a lucky few. To get started on a plan to make the most of your business’s website, pick up the phone and dial (647) 478-5858 to talk to one of Gilmedia’s web professionals today.

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