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Why Responsive Design? by Darren Strudwick

When I first started designing websites back in the ancient days of 2003, life was much simpler - at least as far as web designers were concerned. I could make a website and then show it to the customer safe in the knowledge that not only would they be seeing my design laid out on their screen in exactly the same way as it was appearing on mine, but that it would display itself in an identical way to the whole rest of the world on their computer screens.

And why was this the case?  Quite simply because in those days everyone was using the same equipment to browse the internet - namely a desktop computer with Windows operating system and Internet Explorer web browser.

Then things started to change a little.  Laptops got better and became more affordable,  new web browsers came onto the scene, such as Firefox and Chrome to name but a few,  new operating systems were invented, millions of people started switching from Windows based computers to Mac computers, and then of course we now have an infinite number of smart phones and tablets all of which come in different shapes and sizes.

So, fast forward from 2003 when I started, it's now true that when a website is designed you can't know what device it's going to be viewed on.  Older websites which were previously designed to fix widths, display pretty much ok on larger screens, but on devices such as tablets and especially phones,  they are shrunk to the size of a dot to fit onto the screen.   A phone will typically try to shrink the entire contents of a fixed-size / width website onto its small screen. Obviously from the point of view of the person trying to read the website, their options are either to buy glasses so that they can read the now miniaturized content or use the zoom feature on the phone, or most often they won't even bother, instead preferring to look at an alternate website.

With so many different devices and screen sizes you need to know that your website content is going to remain big and easy to read - even on the smallest device - which might well be the iphone 4s - the reason I know that is because I have one, possibly it's time for an upgrade!  At the time of typing this blog,  "Responsive" web design is a relatively new term, but it's pointing the direction into which website design is going.  A responsive website is one where the elements on a web page are able to re-position themselves according to the size of the screen they are being viewed on in such as a way as to keep their original size. For example, lets say we have 10 images appearing side by side on a web page when viewed on a desktop computer.  When that same page is viewed on a smart phone, the layout will reconfigure itself and those images will now appear in a vertically stacked column, one above the other.  If they had stayed in a horizontal row, the only way they could have been displayed onto a small mobile phone screen would be for each one to be shrunk down to ant-size.

Do we really need responsive design?  According to various surveys, more people now view websites on their phones than on a computer, so you could argue responsive websites are necessary.  More importantly Google have said they rank responsive websites higher in their search results than non resposive websites - and in fact that argument alone is the reason I have spent 100 hours making my own website responsive!  

Responsivity has also brought with it a new style and new trends in the way websites are designed such as the layouts of responsive websites tend to fill the whole width of the screen, images and text are larger.  Every thing is bigger and bolder whilst at the same time there is a minimalism to it all. 

In conclusion, if you are thinking of having a website designed, you should think about having a responsive website.  It does cost a little more, some might say they can't afford to have it,  but can you afford not to have it?