Is Responsive Design Right for Your Mobile Customer?

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In a report on mobile customer experiences, Forrester Research predicts that businesses that integrate the use of context – that is, sharing appropriate services, prices, and content with customers at the right moment – will gain significant advantages over competitors. Due to the same content being presented regardless of device, mobile sites built with responsive design are much less able to take context into account when engaging with mobile users. 

Understanding the context around use cases of mobile users is a key consideration when choosing the right design direction. Consider the context when a consumer is on the train and wants to read the news. Responsive design will work well in situations where the content served is the same, regardless of the screen size. (The Boston Globe is a great example of this). Now consider the user who is on the train and wants to buy a new pair of boots for the winter. In this case, responsive design is not the best option because the context around this use case demands speed, ease of browsing and task completion.

Responsive design excels when the context demands optimized presentation, but it does not necessarily work well or take advantage of the user needs or the power of that device. With a dedicated mobile site, organizations will have more flexibility to provide for user needs and tailor their experience.

There’s no doubt that the debate around responsive Web design (RWD) has reached the entry level of most organizations, achieving elevated status as a simple way to reach consumers on the Web, regardless of the device they use to access the Internet.

But is responsive design really the right approach to engage your mobile customers?

Roland Campbell, director of solution engineering at Usablenet, can imagine what you’re thinking: “What do you mean? Of course responsive design is right for our mobile customer. Everyone is doing responsive design now, and even Google is advocating for it!”

Before we break out the torches and pitchforks, let’s think about what Google is really saying. Sure Google recommends responsive design as a way for developers to extend content to mobile devices, but they offer mobile specific versions of Gmail and Google Plus, two of their flagship products. With one search field and blocks of content, for example, it makes sense for Google News to take a responsive approach as it is easy for content-heavy sites to repurpose the way the content is presented on mobile devices.

However Ethan Marcotte, who coined the term responsive Web design, states in his book Responsive Web Design, “most importantly, responsive Web design isn’t intended to serve as a replacement for mobile websites”.

Campbell has identified a number of key considerations organizations must examine before they decide to incorporate responsive design.


Related Topics : In Their Own Words: The Four Dark Horses for the Third Major Mobile OS Speak, HTC, Mobile Search, 3G, Location-Based Services

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