In the beginning, there was the page – a single piece of paper. Marketers hired savvy designers to use color and space, text and graphics to tell their stories, and it was good.
It’s no coincidence that many of the terms we use to describe the web have been borrowed from the world of paper. We talk about the viewable space as a “page”, and the top portion of the page as “above the fold.” We “cut and paste” words and images into digital space. This terminology betrays the way we have addressed web design from the time the Internet became a part of our world. Paper-based designers took the things they knew and understood from this medium, and applied it to the digital world.
But the digital world is not made of paper.
It’s time to take the web out of the paper age and start to design websites based on the unique characteristics of this exciting medium. Unlike on paper, there are different limitations and many possibilities – some yet to be discovered.
“Day by day, the number of devices, platforms, and browsers that need to work with your site grows. Responsive web design represents a fundamental shift in how we’ll build websites for the decade to come.” – Jeffrey Veen
Today’s web is viewed on a variety of different devices and through a number of different browsers. Unlike with paper, there are so many ways to look at web that designers must consider how a user will interact across each of the possible viewports.
The idea of responsive web design was first introduced a couple of years ago as mobile technology was just beginning to take hold. Web designers began to whittle away at the elements of a site created for full size computer monitors, removing what was unnecessary or detracted from the performance of the site when accessed through a mobile platform.
While there are some instances when it is prudent to build more than one site to accommodate different devices, in most cases it makes more sense to design a single responsive website that adapts in the same way as water changes form, constantly morphing to fill the container that holds it.
Today’s designers must think outside page. Through the use of fluid grids, media queries, and responsive images, websites can – and arguably should – be built to accommodate full computer monitors, tablets, smart phones, and other possible viewports. With these new tools, web designers can now leverage relevant, targeted content to reach users no matter how they browse the web.
To deliver the best possible user experience, think before you build.
- Simplify navigation
- Keep content short and smart
- Focus on key points
- Make images count
- Make buttons big – think “touchscreen”
- Choose appropriate format for video
- Minimize loading time
If you decide to build a website incorporating responsive design – for yourself or a client – it’s more important than ever before to be sure you know your audience, their preferences, and their media use patterns. Web design should be user-driven. With their priorities in mind, it’s much simpler to determine the essential content to optimize the user experience.
In the end, there will always be paper, and designers who specialize in creating amazing designs that lend themselves to that medium. But if you want your website to be responsive to users, keep paper-based designs where they belong – on paper, and design your website for the digital age.