Ask anybody about what is hot in web design this year and they are likely to mention responsive web design. If anything it is overdue, given how much popular means of accessing the internet have diversified in the past year, but this is the year when experts expect smartphone access will become the most common form of internet access. It is therefore more important than ever to ensure that sites work smoothly across multiple platforms.
Responsive web design is based around three principles. The first is that graphics should be able to scale so that they look good at any size and, ideally, in different proportions so that they work on different screen widths. This is where the second principle comes in – percentage-based columns keep the adjustment of different designs simple. Thirdly, media queries tell the browser when to modify or change the graphics and the layout of the page.
These three principles mean websites can be adjusted for any platform, but they also have their downsides. Some shapes are more easily scaled than others; some fonts only look really good in a few sizes. This means that pages need to be designed carefully with these issues in mind, though tools are improving all the time to take on more of the workload. In addition, there can be difficulties with making responsive sites fully accessible to disabled users. It can be a good idea to have a back-up version of the site that screen readers can be directed to automatically to cover at least one of these bases.
Photo images can’t be modified as easily as other kinds of graphics – they can only be rescaled – so responsive web design either has to work around photo images or leave them out. This can mean a significant redesign for many sites. It is also a good time to think about redesigning logos and simplifying graphics overall, not simply to make modification practical but also to give the site powerful visual impact on any size and shape of screen.
There is another big factor driving responsive web design just now, and this is Google’s announcement that it intends to start penalizing sites that are not mobile compliant. This means even businesses that do not expect to have many mobile users in their demographic need to look seriously at redesign. It doesn’t mean abandoning complex content, just rethinking the way it is handled.