What does responsive web design mean?

Responsive website design is a term coined by Ethan Marcotte in 2010 and it is used to describe web pages that visually adapt to best suit the size of screen they are being viewed on. This is sometimes called mobile-friendly, or mobile-optimised web design.

Previous to responsive web design, websites would typically be built with only one screen size in mind (usually that of a desktop PC). But since mobile web browsing began to emerge in the late 2000s, web developers found a pressing need to start building web pages that work on these smaller devices.

See our charity responsive web design service.

What are the benefits of responsive web design?

Given the many, many good reasons to design a mobile-friendly website, it is rather surprising to still see so many websites that are not optimised for mobile and tablet devices. Organisations who don’t take advantage of this modern way of designing websites risk falling behind. If your charity does not yet have a mobile-optimised website, here’s what you’re missing out on:

  • On mobile websites, telephone numbers can usually be tapped by the finger in order to start a phone call.
  • Content is generally easier to read on mobile-friendly websites because screen size has been taken into account. This means that your information will be much more accessible for readers, especially those who may suffer with visual impairment.
  • Due to the nature of responsive web design, your pages will adapt to all screen sizes automatically. This means that the user’s browser window size won’t matter, and will show your website correctly.
  • Websites built with responsive web design are often also optimised for speed, so will load quickly over slower mobile phone networks.
  • Mobile website browsers are usually kept up to date more than their desktop counterparts, so your website can employ the latest technology safe in the knowledge that your visitors will be able to use it.

Are there any disadvantages to responsive website design?

Yes, but it’s important to point out that these minor issues should never outweigh the pros of responsive web design. All organisations should have a mobile-optimised website without excuse. However, you may wish to take into account the following:

  • Sometimes a web developer may charge more to make a responsive website because it may take them longer to build.
  • A developer may choose to disable page zooming (the ability to pinch and zoom into an area of the page) which can have a negative impact on accessibility for those with visual impediment who need greater control over their device in this way.
  • Digitally excluded people who don’t use smartphones may have some familiarity with browsing the internet on desktop PCs, but may struggle to understand the conventions of mobile-friendly websites (such as recognising the “hamburger” icon)