Not something that is usually associated with creative web development, but thinking inside the box has recently become one of the most talked about issues in web development. By ‘thinking inside the box’ I mean responsive web design, or the ability of a website to adapt and change to fit inside the space available on any device, be it the small screen of a hand-held mobile phone or the acres of real estate available on a modern widescreen television.
Scott has recently touched on this subject in his blog post – Are You Able to Respond.
Following on from this post, the market research organisation Nielsen has recently released figures for Australian mobile usage. In July 2013 there were approximately 800 million mobile page impressions in Australia. Compare this to the same period in 2012 in which there were only 300 million mobile page impressions and we can see that mobile devices are rapidly becoming a major alternative to desktop computers for accessing the internet. This is also demonstrated in the browser usage share for July 2013 which shows that desktop computers account for 60% of internet access and mobiles and tablets accounting for most of the remainder browser usage at 38% (Nielsen Market Intelligence, 2013).
It is for these reasons that it is now becoming mandatory that websites look good and function correctly on a multitude of devices. Gone are the days where a website can be designed and developed for a fixed screen size. As Scott emphasises, this approach will result in large numbers of internet users being alienated when they can’t view your site correctly on a hand-held screen.
Responsive web design addresses these issues by allowing a website to adapt to the screen it is displayed on. This involves intelligently collapsing or growing elements on a web page to fit the available space.
‘Technology agnostic’ is another catch-phrase which is starting to be heard in web development circles. Responsive design is technology agnostic because it allows the development of a website regardless of the final device or technology that the site will be accessed on.
However, this has its own implications. Website users will tend to interact differently with a particular website based on the technology they are using. For example, according to Google research, many mobile users will multi-task their internet usage while carrying out other activities such as watching television. It is perhaps for this reason, that mobile sites need to be as easy to use as possible and allow the user to find exactly what they are after even when they may be distracted by other priorities.
A final consideration when looking at the importance of mobile web usage is local business information, Google has found that 94% of smartphone users look for local information on their phone and 90% take action as a result, for example contacting the business. This has implications for the ease of access of mobile business information and the need for this information to be readily accessible and usable. For example, with clickable links for phone numbers which will automatically dial the business number or Google maps.