The appeal of Responsive Web Design is easy to see, right? It just makes sense to deliver your site styled for the specific dimensions of the browser. Especially in a world that sees a new device, with new browser dimensions, released every other Tuesday.
And so the trend towards designing responsively gains more and more momentum. Last December Mashable even preemptively declared 2013 "The Year of Responsive Design".
The benefits are obvious: You build a website once, and it works seamlessly across thousands of different screens.
Pete Cashmore, Why 2013 Is the Year of Responsive Design
Described like that, you can see why many would be tempted to try Responsive Web Design as a solution to delivering their site across mobile. Why not just design one desktop site that will rearrange itself to work for any device, from a Thunderbolt display right on down to an iPod?
But for everything that Responsive Web Design gets right (and there's a lot), using it as a one-size-fits-all front-end solution brings its own set of issues. By it's nature a single-solution means not delivering the optimal experience for each visitor. Yeah, you shrank it down to display on my iPhone, but are you really giving me what I’m looking for?
While a desktop visitor sitting on their couch might want to peruse a store’s sales offers, someone on their smartphone has different needs. Maybe they’re looking for the closest branch, or maybe they’re looking to do an on-the-spot price comparison. They are in need of a different web experience.
If I’m standing in the aisle of another store sizing up a spiffy new pair of shoes, and you’ve got the same kicks at a better price - or maybe in the size or color I’m really looking for - you want me to be able to find that out as quickly and easily as possible. Because let’s face it, I’m impatient and lazy. If pages on my phone are loading slowly, if I’m scrolling all over to find the right link, or if it’s taking more than a handful of clicks to find what I’m looking for, I’m probably going to just pick up the pair in front of me - the wrong color and a half size too big.
Someone visiting from their phone is bound to have different priorities than your typical desktop visitor.
How someone reaches your site provides the context for their visit. And context matters. You can’t deliver the same experience to each visitor with your site simply styled to match their device of choice.
So use Responsive Web Design to do what it does best. It’s an innovative approach to design. But don’t expect it to be a single solution to all your mobile woes, and don’t pile logic on top of logic to try and make it one.
Coming up next in part 2 of the "Why Responsive Web Design isn't enough, and how to fix it" series, we'll take a look at Building for Mobile, and the Dreaded Re-Build.
What do you think? Are you on the responsive design bandwagon? Let us hear your opinion in the comments.