Mobile Phones, and So Much More
Responsive design is one of the most amazingly open, wonderfully confusing, and constantly evolving topics in web design and development at the moment. Whether you're working on front end, back end, sales, search engine optimization, user interface, or any other part of the wide web, you are beholden to the whims of 'the user'. No website is made with the goal of being unnavigable. The challenge to tackle, then, is how to create a flexible, scalable solution that provides the intended experience, whether our user is browsing from their smart TV, their grandmother's CRT box monitor, or the latest cellphone/smart-watch combo on the market.
The big focus of truly responsive design is that you aren't developing a separate mobile domain for phone's in particular, but are meeting both current and future user demands. Many developers and development teams that pitch updating a site for responsive design make the correlation between responsiveness and phones, but they miss out on extolling the virtues of the bigger picture. Any time you're rebuilding a site, a little or a lot, you're solving a problem. Those problems can come in many forms, from a lack of traffic to not meeting the conversion goals set by a business to gain them more profit. Designing truly responsively means that you've paid attention to all the details, mastered the canvas you're working on, and provided the best creation you can.
If you put all the 'web developers' in the world in a single room, there's not going to be a lot of elbow room. How would you start paring those numbers down for professionals worth their salt? A large number can be weeded out quickly by visiting their sites on any device available. Whether they're still learning or just don't devote time to their craft, the visual quality of a site tells you a lot about its developer. Of those we have left, with very flashy, cool, quality sites, is there any further distinction to be made? Absolutely. Pull out your phone. Pull out your tablet. Re-size the resolution of your monitor and hit refresh. How many of those developers would you still hire? How many looked good under 'ideal' viewing, but didn't have the code to go the extra mile?
Not every site website has the same goals. Many projects I do for freelance clients incorporate newer, cutting edge web technology with transitions, canvas interaction, and all sorts of goodies in them. Others I do for my company are very specifically the exact opposite. They're up to modern standard, but their focus is professionalism combined with backwards compatibility. Our average client's user is browsing on an ancient desktop running Windows XP and the same version of Internet Explorer that it came installed with out of the box sometime in the 90s. Does that mean we fore-go responsive design? No way. We still get mobile traffic. We get savvy users, often the children and grandchildren of our client's user-base. Some of our sites get upwards of 30% mobile traffic!
Here's why responsive design is important to every single denizen of the web: the internet is information. Even the most artsy, avant-garde website is intended to convey something. Otherwise it wouldn't be there in the first place. So whether or not your site is getting vast quantities of mobile viewers today or not, responsive design is the smart option. Even though the prospect can seem daunting, remember, the other option is trying to build a custom layout for every screen configuration manually. Perhaps put them all on separate subdomains with automatic redirects. Then manage the visitor and SEO data via a slew of spreadsheets and records. Oh, and don't forget that new phone that's coming out next week with a whole new, unprecedented screen dimension. You'll want another subdomain for that.
All said and done, responsive design is your friend. It increases the quality and reliability of your work, and is ultimately less work. Familiarize yourself with some of the tools available to you, from CMS frameworks to manually coded pre-built themes. Get into the habits of minifying and simplifying to improve your load times on all devices and all connections. Apply Occam's Razor to everything you build, and keep on rocking in the responsive world.