April 19, 2012, 4:04 PM

You better know this new term

Responsive web design is an amazing design strategy.

Lead Photo

Seeing is believing. And when I first saw a demonstration of what is being called “responsive web design,” I was sold. Here was something that could change the way retailers build m-commerce sites.

Recently, two vendors called me up and showed me their wares: Gorilla Group and Trighton Interactive. Here’s the deal. You design once, and that site adjusts itself automatically to fit on a desktop monitor, a tablet screen and a smartphone. Three form factors, one site. It really is amazing.

In one of the demonstrations I saw, the site had a modular feel to it. Different sized boxes (you didn’t necessarily have to see the outlines of the boxes) filled the desktop screen. They were filled with text and images and videos, whatever you like. The screen was filled up, you only had to scroll down a little bit to see more information.

Then I opened up the site on my iPad. The boxes changed orientation: Most of what was “above the fold” on the desktop screen was on the initial tablet screen, then all I had to do was swipe to the right and up popped another screen with everything else. Then I opened the site on my iPhone. Here the boxes were lined up vertically, so I just swiped down to see everything on the home page.

Brilliant.

I’m doing it an injustice by simply describing these site elements as boxes. But put it this way: You place all the content you want on a page, and responsive web design responds to the screen width it detects and organizes the content in the way that best fits that screen.

I did find out in talking with some m-commerce experts that one downside to responsive web design is performance. Responsive web design sites require some heavy-duty coding, and, as a result, can slow performance a bit. But there are always trade-offs with everything. The question becomes: Is it worth losing a second or so on page delivery speed in order to give every single one of your customers a page that best meets their needs? You tell me.

Did you know that the iPad accounts for nearly 2% of the world’s Internet traffic? Did you know that half of all mobile phones in the U.S. today are smartphones? People are accessing your site on all kinds of devices every day. Check your logs. You absolutely have got to be prepared for the new world order, where mobile technology rules. Responsive web design is one tool that can help you serve all of your customers all of the time. (And I stress just one tool; I’m not saying there aren’t many ways to go about addressing mobile customers.)

Do some research on responsive web design. Start here with a story on how King Arthur Flour rebuilt its e-commerce site using the technique. You should at least have an understanding of it before your next redesign, or as you consider mobile commerce.

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