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The Pitfalls of the Responsive Design Approach

Posted on 1.15.2014

:: By James Ramsey, CEO, Fiddlefly Inc. :: 

Trumpeted as an approach that brings quality user experience on various devices, responsive design is in practice a cluttered and outdated approach. Its promise of a one-stop-shop built to manage mobile online access is unfulfilled because the performance it delivers is simply not good enough. It simply doesn’t provide an optimal experience for all users/devices. When clients ask if their site will be “responsive”, the proper reply is that it can be if the client wants a flat desktop site that requires considerable capital to produce and a lack of compelling features.

What’s a good example of responsive design and its pitfalls? Consider a boat car, a piece of machinery that on paper seems like a great way to get around on both the road and the water. It’s a Swiss army knife vehicle without that device’s great functionality. The issue with these types of cars is they try to bend their design elements and functions to do very different environments. How to drive on a hard road at sufficient speed, safety, and comfort, and how to ensure proper buoyancy, power, and maneuverability out on the water. The typical result? A vehicle that doesn’t do either thing well.

Creating a responsive design site means the designers are asking the wrong questions. Maybe they need to know if the mobile site will work on a 5.7-inch screen or if turning the unit sideways will provide a good result. These questions don’t seem particularly difficult in this day and age. So what’s the problem? Responsive design devotees simply don’t get that users on the phone expect to engage in site content with a different manner than tablet or desktop users. Remember our boat-car analogy. It’s not going to win a drag race or be a part of the yacht club, and responsive design is the same thing, it doesn’t stand out in any regard.

So obviously responsive design-built sites are not the right solution, unless you want a poor desktop experience and a clunky mobile site. And of course you don’t, so look to the alternative approaches so you can build a sports car and a luxurious high-speed yacht, not a ridiculous boat-car.

James Ramsey, CEO, FiddleFly Inc., a Digital Creative Agency

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