What is Responsive Web Design?

What is Responsive Web Design?

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Have you asked yourself, “What is responsive web design?” Responsive web design is an approach whereby a designer creates a web page that “responds to” or resizes itself depending on the type of device it is being seen through.  That could be an oversized desktop computer monitor, a laptop or devices with small screens such as smartphones and tablets.

Responsive Web design has become an essential tool for anyone with a digital presence. With the growth of smartphones, tablets and other mobile computing devices, more people are using smaller-screens to view web pages.

These websites have to also consider the mobile-first index just announced by Google in April 2018. As more small businesses increase their mobile presence, their website, eCommerce, Google Business page, social media pages and other assets have to be easily accessible across all devices.

What is Responsive Web Design?

The purpose of responsive design is to have one site, but with different elements that respond differently when viewed on devices of different sizes.

Let’s take a traditional “fixed” website.  When viewed on a desktop computer, for instance, the website might show three columns. But when you view that same layout on a smaller tablet, it might force you to scroll horizontally, something users don’t like. Or elements might be hidden from view or look distorted.  The impact is also complicated by the fact that many tablets can be viewed either in portrait orientation or turned sideways for landscape view.

On a tiny smartphone screen, websites can be even more challenging to see. Large images may “break” the layout. Sites can be slow to load on smartphones if they are graphics heavy.

However, if a site uses responsive design, the tablet version might automatically adjust to display just two columns. That way, the content is readable and easy to navigate. On a smartphone, the content might appear as a single column, perhaps stacked vertically.  Or possibly the user would have the ability to swipe over to view other columns.  Images will resize instead of distorting the layout or getting cut off.

The point is: with responsive design, the website automatically adjusts based on the device the viewer sees it in.

Responsive Web Design

How Does Responsive Web Design Work?

Responsive sites use fluid grids. All page elements are sized by proportion, rather than pixels. So if you have three columns, you wouldn’t say exactly how wide each should be, but rather how wide they should be in relation to the other columns. Column 1 should take up half the page, column 2 should take up 30%, and column 3 should take up 20%, for instance.

Media such as images is also resized relatively. That way an image can stay within its column or relative design element.

Related Issues

Mouse v. touch: Designing for mobile devices also brings up the issue of mouse versus touch.  On desktop computers, the user normally has a mouse to navigate and select items.  On a smartphone or tablet, the user mostly is using fingers and touching the screen.  What may seem easy to select with a mouse, may be hard to select with a finger on a tiny spot on a screen. The Web designer must take “touch” into consideration.

Graphics and download speed: Also, there’s the issue of graphics, ads and download speed. On mobile devices, it may be wise to display fewer graphics than for desktop views so that a site doesn’t take forever to load on a smartphone.  Larger ad sizes may need to be exchanged for smaller ads.

Apps and “mobile versions”:  In the past, you might have thought about creating an app for your website — say an iPad app or an Android app.  Or you would have a mobile version specifically for BlackBerry.

But with so many different devices today, it’s getting harder to create apps and different versions for every device and operating platform.

Fluid GridsResponsive design uses fluid grids that proportionally size page elements, rather than fixed pixels. This allows content to adapt to different screen sizes.
Column WidthsInstead of specifying exact column widths, responsive design defines proportions. For example, Column 1 may occupy 50% of the page, Column 2, 30%, and Column 3, 20%.
Resizing ImagesImages are resized relatively to fit within their designated columns or design elements, ensuring they remain visually appealing across various screens.
Mouse vs. TouchResponsive design considers the difference between mouse and touch interactions. Design elements must be user-friendly for both navigating with a mouse and tapping on a touch screen.
Graphics and Download SpeedMobile-friendly sites often limit the use of graphics to enhance loading speed on smartphones. Ads and images may be optimized for smaller screens.
Apps and "Mobile Versions"In the past, businesses created separate apps or mobile versions for various devices. Responsive design simplifies this by offering a single site that adapts to all devices.

Responsive Web Design

Why Small Businesses Need to Switch to Responsive Web Design

More people are using mobile devices. A recent Pew study 77 % of Americans now own smartphones in 2018 which is up from just 35% in Pew Research Center’s first smartphone ownership survey carried out in 2011.

Check your traffic and you might just be shocked at how many visitors are getting to your website through mobile devices.  (In your Google Analytics, select “Audience” on the left side, then “Mobile” to see what proportion of traffic is from mobile devices. You can even drill down to see which devices are sending the traffic.)

Responsive design templates are everywhere now, for purchase.  If, for instance, you have a WordPress site you can visit a reputable template gallery such as ThemeForest and search for “responsive WordPress themes.”  Purchase one for under $50. Your Web developer can then customize it for your logo and brand.

Responsive Web Design

Making the Shift to Responsive Web Design

If you’re considering the move to responsive web design for your business website, there are several key factors to keep in mind to ensure a successful transition. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Understanding Responsive Web Design: Responsive web design is an approach that allows your website to adapt and provide an optimal viewing experience across various devices, including desktops, laptops, smartphones, and tablets. It’s essential to grasp the core concept of responsive design before making the shift.
  • Benefits of Responsive Design: Explore the advantages of responsive web design, such as improved user experience, increased mobile traffic, better SEO rankings, and cost-effectiveness. Understanding these benefits can motivate you to make the switch.
  • Evaluating Your Current Website: Assess your existing website’s performance across different devices. Use tools like Google Analytics to gather data on your site’s traffic from mobile devices. This evaluation will help you identify the need for responsive design.
  • Choosing the Right Platform: If your website is built on a content management system (CMS) like WordPress, Joomla, or Drupal, research responsive design templates and themes compatible with your platform. Selecting the right foundation is crucial for a smooth transition.
  • Customization and Branding: While responsive templates provide a starting point, it’s essential to customize them to align with your brand’s identity. Work with a web developer or designer to ensure that your logo, colors, and branding elements are integrated seamlessly.
  • User Experience (UX) Considerations: Responsive design goes beyond resizing elements. It focuses on creating an optimal UX for users on all devices. Pay attention to touch-friendly navigation, legible fonts, and intuitive layouts to enhance UX.
  • Testing Across Devices: Before launching your responsive website, extensively test it across various devices and screen sizes. Ensure that all functionalities work correctly, and the content is displayed consistently. Testing is a critical phase to identify and address any issues.
  • Content Optimization: Optimize your website’s content for mobile users. Consider shorter paragraphs, concise headlines, and mobile-friendly images. A responsive site should deliver a seamless content experience on smaller screens.
  • Performance Optimization: Mobile users expect fast-loading websites. Optimize your site’s performance by minimizing large images, reducing unnecessary scripts, and leveraging browser caching. A faster site improves user satisfaction and SEO rankings.
  • SEO Implications: Responsive web design positively impacts your site’s SEO. Google favors mobile-friendly sites in search results. Ensure that your responsive site complies with Google’s mobile-first indexing guidelines.
  • Mobile-First Indexing: Understand the concept of mobile-first indexing by Google. This indexing approach prioritizes the mobile version of your site for ranking and indexing. Ensure that your responsive design is optimized for mobile SEO.
  • Maintenance and Updates: Responsive websites require ongoing maintenance and updates to stay compatible with evolving web technologies and devices. Plan for regular checks and updates to keep your site responsive and efficient.
  • User Feedback and Iteration: Encourage user feedback on your responsive site. Analyze user behavior and gather input to make iterative improvements. User insights can guide enhancements to your website’s responsiveness.
  • Mobile Marketing Strategies: As you transition to responsive design, consider integrating mobile marketing strategies. Leverage mobile advertising, SMS marketing, and mobile apps to engage with your audience effectively.
  • Training and Education: Invest in training and educating your team on responsive web design best practices. Ensure that content creators, developers, and designers understand the principles of responsiveness.
  • Monitor Analytics: Continuously monitor your website’s analytics, paying attention to mobile traffic trends and user behavior. Data-driven insights can help you fine-tune your responsive design strategy.
  • User-Centric Approach: Keep a user-centric approach throughout the process. Prioritize delivering an exceptional user experience across all devices, which will ultimately benefit your business and brand.
  • Seek Professional Guidance: If you’re unsure about the technical aspects of responsive design or need assistance with the transition, consider consulting with web design experts or agencies with expertise in responsive web design.
Understanding Responsive Web DesignFamiliarize yourself with the concept of responsive design, which adapts your website for optimal viewing on various devices.
Benefits of Responsive DesignExplore the advantages, including improved user experience, increased mobile traffic, better SEO, and cost-effectiveness.
Evaluating Your Current WebsiteAssess your existing site's performance on different devices, using tools like Google Analytics to gather data.
Choosing the Right PlatformIf you use a content management system (CMS), research responsive templates compatible with your platform.
Customization and BrandingCustomize responsive templates to align with your brand's identity, ensuring seamless integration of logos and colors.
User Experience (UX) ConsiderationsPrioritize touch-friendly navigation, legible fonts, and intuitive layouts for an optimal user experience on all devices.
Testing Across DevicesThoroughly test your responsive site across various devices and screen sizes to ensure functionality and consistency.
Content OptimizationAdapt content for mobile users, focusing on concise paragraphs, headlines, and mobile-friendly images.
Performance OptimizationOptimize site performance with techniques like image compression, script reduction, and browser caching for faster loading.
SEO ImplicationsRecognize the positive impact of responsive design on SEO, with Google favoring mobile-friendly sites in search rankings.
Mobile-First IndexingEnsure your responsive design complies with Google's mobile-first indexing guidelines for optimal search engine visibility.
Maintenance and UpdatesPlan for ongoing maintenance and updates to keep your responsive site compatible with evolving web technologies.
User Feedback and IterationGather user feedback and analyze behavior to make iterative improvements, enhancing website responsiveness.
Mobile Marketing StrategiesConsider integrating mobile marketing tactics such as mobile advertising, SMS marketing, and mobile apps into your strategy.
Training and EducationInvest in team training to ensure content creators, developers, and designers understand responsive design principles.
Monitor AnalyticsContinuously monitor website analytics, focusing on mobile traffic trends and user behavior to inform your strategy.
User-Centric ApproachPrioritize delivering an exceptional user experience across all devices, enhancing your brand's reputation and appeal.
Seek Professional GuidanceIf needed, consult with responsive web design experts or agencies to navigate the technical aspects of the transition.

Responsive Web Design


the transition to responsive web design is not merely a technical upgrade; it represents a strategic shift in how businesses engage with their audiences online. With the ever-increasing use of mobile devices, responsive design has become an imperative for staying competitive and relevant in the digital landscape. By embracing responsive web design, businesses can achieve several critical objectives:

  • Enhanced User Experience: A responsive website ensures that visitors, regardless of their device, enjoy a seamless and engaging experience. This translates into longer visit durations, lower bounce rates, and increased chances of conversions.
  • Improved SEO and Visibility: Search engines, particularly Google, prioritize mobile-friendly websites. Responsive design positively influences search rankings, potentially leading to higher organic traffic and improved discoverability.
  • Cost-Efficiency: Maintaining a single responsive website is more cost-effective than managing multiple versions for different devices. It streamlines content updates, reduces development efforts, and lowers operational costs.
  • Broader Audience Reach: A responsive site opens doors to a broader audience, including mobile users who constitute a significant portion of internet traffic. It ensures your content and services are accessible to everyone.
  • Competitive Advantage: Businesses that adopt responsive design gain a competitive edge by demonstrating their commitment to providing a top-notch online experience. This can foster trust and brand loyalty among customers.
  • Adaptability to Future Technologies: As new devices and screen sizes emerge, a responsive framework is adaptable by design. It future-proofs your online presence and reduces the need for frequent redesigns.
  • Data-Driven Decision-Making: Responsive design allows for comprehensive data analysis, enabling businesses to understand user behavior across devices. These insights inform strategic decisions and continual improvement.

However, it’s essential to approach the shift to responsive design thoughtfully and systematically. Consider user needs, maintain branding consistency, and prioritize performance optimization. Regular monitoring and updates will ensure your responsive website remains effective and aligned with evolving technological trends.

Responsive web design is not merely a checkbox on your digital strategy checklist; it’s a commitment to delivering exceptional user experiences in an increasingly mobile-centric world. Embrace this transformation, and your business will be better positioned to thrive in the dynamic landscape of the digital age. Your responsive website will not only meet user expectations but also exceed them, leaving a lasting impression and fostering lasting connections with your audience.

Editor’s Note:  Here at Small Business Trends, we are working on a new responsive design. Shouldn’t you?

Photo via Shutterstock

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Annie Pilon Annie Pilon is a Senior Staff Writer for Small Business Trends and has been a member of the team for 12 years. Annie covers feature stories, community news and in-depth, expert-based guides. She has a bachelor’s degree from Columbia College Chicago in Journalism and Marketing Communications.