The Pros and Cons of Responsive Web Design

As you probably read on the last post, I just recently finished reading Responsive Web Design by Ethan Marcotte. And, in risk of repeating myself too much, I think it’s one of the best web design related books I’ve read so far. If you still don’t know what I’m talking about, you can read Ethan’s introductory article on the subject.

But, even though responsive web design seems like a very impressive approach, is it always the right solution to your task at hand?

We should remember that it’s never just about implementing the latest design trend there is. Before thinking about investing time, money and resources on responsive web design implementation, we must consider the following:

  • Does it align itself to our site’s objectives?
  • Do our users expect the exact same of the website when they visit it on mobile as when they do on their computers?
  • Do we have the resources to do it?
  • Do our time schedules allow it?

I’d like to review a couple of statements against and in favor of its use

Reasons to consider Responsive Web Design

  • One solution to rule them all – Admit it, having a single version of a website that works on every screen width and device is a pretty great deal. It will not only be benefical for the users, it will also be easier to maintain afterwards.
  • Avoiding device-alternating issues – One of the main downfalls of building both, a desktop version and a mobile version of a site, is the fact either way the user is likely to share the URL, and the person who opens that shared link isn’t always using the same device through which it was shared. Responsive web design avoids this effectively.
  • It’s not just about the device - Even if we have a very large screen, we don’t always have a full-screen sized window open for the web browser. With a responsive web site, even if the window is resized, we never end up with that horrible horizontal scroll.
  • Attacking media display issues – Of course, a responsive website has to consider resizable media, in formats that can be viewed from every device.
  • Designing for mobile first – By now, I’m sure everyone is familiar with Luke Wroblewski’s motto of designing for mobile first, which is something we are practically forced to do while implementing responsive web design. This way, content that isn’t really needed by the user is avoided in the final result.

Reasons NOT to consider Responsive Web Design

  • Development times and resources – Building a responsive website has its complexity. Do you have the time (considering your previously established delivery dates) to do it correctly? Are there people on your team capable of doing it or do they need training? Do you have the time for that training?
  • Cross-browser compatibilities – HTML5 and CSS3 are very powerful allies for building a responsive website, but we all know that there are still many compatibility issues regarding these languages. Alternate ways of achieving the same results may be necessary, which brings a new issue to the list…
  • Loading times – Internet connection on mobile devices is still a greater issue than on common computers, which brings this topic to the table. Responsiveness requires extra server calls due to cross-browser and cross-platform compatibility issues (yes, we are back on the IE topic). Media alternating also needs additional server calls, or else resizing a huge image everytime will also result in slower loading times since the same 700×700 image is still loaded on a 320×480 screen.
  • Different devices, varying objectives – The objective of the desktop site (often informative as well as functional) is not always the same requested of the mobile version (often just functional, and not to the same extent of the full website). This makes it necessary to work on different versions for each purpose.
  • Image resizing restrictions – Image resizing is a very important topic for responsiveness. But think about advertising. There are pre-established sizes for web advertising, and resizing or croping ads may result in harmful distortion.

So, as for every other available solution, the conclusion is that you must judge it for yourself. Consider every aspect of it and of your current project. Is it what you need?