User experience and responsive web design
After highlighting responsive web design as one of the hottest trends for 2012, we’ve decided to take a closer look at what this new approach will mean for user experience (UX).
Over the past year, a common discussion amongst clients has focused on whether a dedicated mobile/tablet presence was beneficial and cost effective for their needs. The emergence of responsive web design and its expected growth in 2012 will soon render this debate redundant and providing a web presence across multiple devices will become the standard.
There are suggestions in the industry that mobile internet usage will surpass desktop usage as soon as 2015. Despite this, at present there remains a real opportunity for organisations to position themselves as pioneers in mobile and tablet usability. As a result, UX experts have been required to get to grips with the ins and outs of responsive design. Quickly.
Key UX Considerations
One of the key areas in user experience design covers the research and identification of user types and their presentation in the form of personas to influence user centred design. When smartphones first appeared on the scene it was assumed users would have very different requirements from traditional desktop browsers. This meant navigation, functionality and content could differ considerably dependent on the device used to access a site.
However, the rise of the tablet and the improved browsing capabilities of smartphones and lesser-used browsers such as internet TV have meant accessing content is now consistently effective across all devices. This will ultimately result in user objectives remaining the same regardless of device. The challenge to the UX designer will therefore be defining the way in which the same content can be presented across different browsers – a key factor in responsive design.
As a result, the fundamental challenge for responsive design surrounds how to handle the presentation of navigation, and establishing which content maintains prominence as screen retail decreases. For instance, a main navigation bar containing eight options that fits comfortably in a horizontal fashion on a desktop browser could, with spacing carefully considered, still be effective on a tablet but far less so on a smaller browser. Creative thinking is therefore required.
By considering how content will be rendered across different devices at an early stage rather than considering a mobile design as a separate project, the chances of producing a valuable user experience across multiple devices is greatly increased.
Costs & Benefits
The changes required in layout (and, potentially, the functional components that are used to present content) means there will be a need for multiple instances of wireframing, prototyping and testing phases for each different browser type, potentially lengthening the project timeline.
However, the consistency offered by having one web presence rendering across all devices rather than a separate mobile application presents a major benefit in user experience. The explosion of content-receiving devices is likely to continue and, as such, responsive site design will grow into each new device without the need for a complete redesign.
Andy Greenwood, head of user experience, Rippleffect