Recently, The Guardian posted an article stating that apps are more popular than the mobile web and that the average daily number of minutes spent browsing the web on your iPhone or iPad has dropped from 31 minutes to 22 minutes since 2012. Instead of referring to a web browser to surf the web, mobile users now prefer to use apps for the different products they use and spend more time on game apps on their phone.
As a web designer, it’s easy to take this information and kind of freak out. Admittedly, when I first read the article, some of the thoughts that went through my head included, “Is the web browser going to die? But I build websites for a living! I’m going to starve!!” and “Why am I always late to everything!!” But, once I started to calm down, I started to realize why this trend is happening.
The vast majority of websites look like garbage on a phone.
When you look at a website on your phone, a lot of the time the text is tiny. Then when you zoom in you have to scroll from side to side all over the place or the buttons are so small that you can’t tap them with your fingertips without hitting two or three of them at once. Looking at a desktop-wide website on a tiny screen is painful and whenever I find myself on a website on my phone that requires me to zoom in and then scroll left and right, I leave almost immediately. It’s no wonder mobile web-browsing has made a drastic drop! People are just giving up!
A classic rule of web design and any kind of interface design is, “don’t make me think”. People shouldn’t have to desperately search while scrolling and zooming on their phone just to find out what the number for pizza delivery is on a website.
Enter Responsive Design
Responsive design isn’t a new concept by any means, but it seems to have taken a really long time to actually catch on. It’s so weird because experiencing a responsive website on your phone versus a non-responsive website is SO much more pleasant. All of the sudden things fit where they should, buttons are bigger, and you don’t have to zoom in or scroll sideways anymore. You can view a website on a tablet, phone, or an eReader, and it still looks great. Making a website responsive so that it works on any device is a little bit more of a time investment from your web designer or developer and therefore also a financial investment. If having a responsive design means that someone visiting your website on their phone is going to buy your product instead of ditching your website because they can’t find what they’re looking for – then in my opinion, it’s definitely worth the investment.
But if people aren’t browsing websites on mobile devices anyways, why is responsive design so important?
Back in 2010, Mashable published this article suggesting that by 2015, mobile web use would be bigger than desktop web use. While people are spending more time on mobile devices than on desktop computers than they were before, what we’re seeing now is not more mobile browsing, it’s more usage of native apps and games. If the trend of mobile web browsing is on the decline, then why should we even care about responsive design?
The answer is pretty simple. Have you ever been on the Facebook or Twitter app on your phone or even in your mobile email inbox and seen a link to some interesting content on another website? Then when you clicked that link did you end up on a screen with tiny type and tons of side scrolling? Did you become frustrated quickly with the illegible text and tiny buttons meant for Tinkerbell hands? That’s why responsive design still matters.
If you’re a small business and you rely on “word of mouth” to market your business, a huge percentage of your web traffic can come from social sharing sites like Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest – which are all apps that people spend time using on their phone or tablet. People might not be cruising through their bookmarks toolbar while their on their iPhone or iPad, but they might see a link you posted on Twitter and want to visit your website. And if your website doesn’t work on a phone, then they’re probably not going to read your content.
Responsive design makes sense based on how we use the internet these days. A few years ago, you’d have to go to a computer and sit down to access the internet, now it’s available everywhere, literally in the palm of your hand. When you’re adaptive to technology, it doesn’t just make your website a pleasure to use on any device, but it also makes your customers trust you. People notice when you’re accommodating to them, and if someone can’t find what they’re looking for on your website because it isn’t mobile-friendly, then you’re basically turning away your customers before they even get in the door. Responsive isn’t the future, and it isn’t an “add-on bonus feature” it’s the important thing that your website must have right now.