Is Responsive Really the Way to Respond?

With the explosion of the mobile web on smartphones and tablets and the way people now interact with the web on a daily basis, I’ve had to make some major decisions on how I approach UI/UX design. I agree with most designers, in that I must be cognizant of mobile from the very beginning of my design process. I’ve been hearing a lot about responsive lately, especially with the very popular Twitter bootstrap, but is responsive really the way to respond to the new wave of internet users?

There are three ways to tackle multi-device Web design: Responsive Design, RESS, and Device Experience. I have my opinion on which is the best, but I’ll describe each and you can decide.

Responsive Design
Responsive Web Design uses grids and images with media queries to change the layout based on the device viewport. This uses mostly client-side feature detection to adjust the site. Sounds great right? Just one website that will deploy to all devices and adapt to their capabilities.

However, this approach limits design capabilities and functionality. And the biggest headache with responsive design: optimizing images and videos to adapt fluidly to each device. There are a few advantages: this is the most cost-effective approach to multi-device web design and user-friendly in that you don’t have to deal with server-side device detection.

Responsive Web Design with Server Side Components (RESS)
RESS can be thought of as the next step beyond Responsive Design, or Responsive + a bit more functionality. Again, a single set of templates defines the website for all devices. However, specific components have device-class implementations that are rendered server-side. As far as responsive goes, this is really the best way to go if you trust device detection. This approach only delivers what each client needs based on their specific device without going through the trouble of creating UI/UX for each device. If you don’t have the time, cash flow, or capability to take the next step, this is a good way to improve the user experience.

Device Experience
Device Experience involves building separate and appropriate interfaces for the capabilities and limitations of each device. This means creating front-end design and development for each class of device you want to support and using server-side detection to deliver the correct experience for each individual device.

Each device gets only what it needs, thus maximizing optimization for each user. Yes, this takes a tremendous amount of time and increases project expense, but it’s unquestionably the most user-friendly and beautiful solution.

In my opinion, Device Experience is the best way to go. If you want to maximize the impact on your audience across all devices, it really is the cream of the crop. It will take more time and money upfront, but the return on investment will be better click-through, higher retention, and loyalty from your audience.

I’ve always been a strong believer in an audience-driven approach to UI/UX design and Device Experience allows me to target each individual user and how they interact with their specific device.


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