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Responsive Design and the Variable of One

Posted on 10.22.2014

By David Cervantes & Areos Ledesma of
AIM Consulting


Today’s consumer gets his or her information on the go. Mobile devices are being utilized at a rapidly increasing rate, whether it’s for grabbing directions, purchasing shoes or checking the news. According to Smart Insights, one in four Americans only use mobile devices to access the Internet and, in 2012, over half of all local searches were done on a mobile device.

The rapid growth of the mobile Internet has also resulted in rapid changes to its supporting technologies. Just a few years ago, a mobile website was considered cutting edge. Sometimes known as an “m-dot site,” it was one of the first ways to create a mobile-friendly version of an existing website. Visitors to a website via mobile phone would be automatically redirected to an m.dot subdomain that would render a modified (or entirely different) site. This approach had several problems, however, and fell out of favor in 2012 when Google stated its preference for a single URL for Web content.

M-dot sites were mostly a temporary solution to mobile Web, but in most cases they are no longer the best solution. With the latency in 3G and 4G networks, the redirects in m-dot sites cause delays, and lost time is lost money, particularly for e-commerce sites. KISSmetrics estimates a site earning $100,000 per day could lose up to $2.5 million per year with just a 1 second load delay. Moreover, m-dot sites hosting mobile content on a subdomain of the main website force managers to oversee essentially two sites instead of one.

One Website, One URL

Responsive Web design (RWD) offers a solution. Responsive Web design is implemented using new technologies that automatically resize, reprioritize and reorganize content according to the dimensions of your screen. With RWD, the same content can be viewed across desktop screens, tablets and mobile smartphones, all originating from one code-base.

Responsive Web design overcomes the mobile ecosystem’s fragmentation and enables both marketing and IT to leverage the concept of the Variable of One: one strategy, one content, one code base to maintain, one deployment, one user experience, one set of metrics. And while there is still some debate on the merits of m-dot versus RWD, there is no doubt that, from an SEO perspective, RWD is the better route to take.

However, not every organization feels ready to make the leap. There can be daunting roadblocks, especially at the enterprise level, ranging from lack of compatible infrastructure to lack of skilled resources; however, it’s critical for companies to provide a positive mobile user experience, and Responsive Web design provides both marketing and development teams with a solution that is holistic, integrated and for the most part – when done right – easier to maintain. Most objections to implementing RWD can be overcome. Here are just a few common objections to responsive Web design as well as how a capable consultancy can help resolve them.

1. “We disagree over who owns the process to become responsive.”

As businesses grow, there are an increasing number of stakeholders that must work together to effect change. For example, IT might have jurisdiction over the development team and network improvements while marketing and sales are the ones driving the need for an improved mobile user experience.

Solution: A committee approach to project management is not always effective in situations like this. Groups should certainly collaborate by providing input on their priorities and feedback on the approach, but the project has to be driven by somebody who has done it before. The key to a resolution is a plan and the key to a successful plan is the experience to understand all of the variables that will come into play during execution. When multiple groups are impacted by a proposed change and can’t agree on what is needed or how to implement it, an experienced and objective party, such as a consulting team, can create and execute the plan necessary to develop an integrated, holistic solution that will ensure all goals are met and change is managed throughout the organization.

2. “Our infrastructure can’t support responsive design.”

Old technology can certainly be an obstacle, especially as responsive Web design leverages new technologies that may not yet be supported by IT. Other challenges include new methods for data exchange (e.g. Web services) and the broader spectrum of browser support that may be required.

Solution: When upgrades in infrastructure are necessary to support the needs of the business, consultants such as architects and lead developers with responsive Web design experience can gauge the best technologies to leverage and which ones to have IT consider for early adoption and testing. Seasoned technologists with the right experience will be able to keep the biggest risks top of mind, such as security, performance and scalability, and come up with a final solution to support the redesign.

3. “We don’t have people with the right skills to implement responsive design.”

It’s true that RWD requires specialists, including business analysts, user experience designers and developers who understand responsive design and can properly build the new customer-facing experience. It’s rare for organizations to have all the required resources available with the right background to implement this type of technological change in an aggressive time-frame. More importantly, the organization must also be able to maintain the product that is built as an outcome of a redesign.

Solution: Technology consulting companies that offer flexible engagement models can help tackle a large redesign by providing skilled resources that blend with your current team. Over time, with the right approach, your internal resources will be trained by the consultants to become more familiar with the technologies involved. As the consulting team phases out, your people will be able to own and maintain the product moving forward.

When your website can be accessed with any device, you reach more customers and ultimately more conversions. With RWD, content is managed in one place, resulting in more efficiency. With a single URL, tests can be run across all device platforms equally, analytics will be consolidated and data can be more easily aggregated.

The Future of Responsive Design

As digital experience continues to evolve and more devices are put on the market for accessing the Web, it’s important for organizations to think ahead. How will consumers view your website two years from now? Will it be on wearable devices such as the Apple Watch? Will websites respond to mobile devices differently, serving better content based on location-based context? How big or small will mobile phones be in the future? What about Smart TVs? Responsive Web design can tackle the challenge presented by an increasingly fragmented ecosystem of devices by uniformly serving web content to consumers regardless of hardware, platform or screen size.

In the future, optimizing for different devices will be easier, with new tools to help with selective loading and device capability detection. As we move forward, organizations must seriously consider responsive experiences or risk falling behind in their respective markets and verticals. Now is the time to take a hard look at what RWD can do for your business – and get the ball rolling. Responsive Web design is future-ready. It is a proven method to deliver digital experiences, and in the long run will be well worth the initial investment.


David Cervantes is a seasoned User Experience professional at AIM Consulting. He has led initiatives with major corporations and brands to define the overall digital user/customer experience including user research and analysis, usability studies, profile modeling, information architecture/wireframes, mock ups, prototypes, and more. He can be reached at dcervantes@aimconsulting.com.

Areos Ledesma is the Director of Corporate Development at AIM Consulting. Previously the Solution Director for Digital Experience and UX Design Consulting Engagements, he is well versed in managing all aspects of large-scale initiatives spanning digital strategy, UX and visual design, rapid prototyping, content strategy, development, testing and measurement.  He can be reached at aledesma@aimconsulting.com.


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