Don’t Underestimate the Power of Responsive Web Design

February 8, 2016

Creating an interactive and engaging website is an essential part of digital marketing and branding. It is often the trigger for transaction with your business or the first point of digital contact your brand has with a potential customer.

However, due to the changing landscape in both Google search and the user’s tendencies to access information from multiple devices, having a website that isn’t responsive on mobile devices can essentially be the same as not having a website at all.

The biggest change is the shift to mobile where the majority of search-based traffic is now originating from. What this tells us though, is that the mobile experience is becoming more important than the desktop version. Usability on both has to be the focus of any web build.

  • In 2015, 68% of Canadians owned a smartphone (Americans aren’t too far behind, with a 64% smartphone penetration rate).
  • However, a total of 7% of Americans have no other access to internet (no broadband, no computer etc.) and rely completely on their smartphone for research, purchases, and to consume media.

But what is responsive web design?

The concept of responsive design was implemented under a W3C industry standard in June 2012 that developed Media Queries. It required that in order for your website to remain current and user-friendly, website design services should always include mobile functionality. It is essentially the practice of using fluid grids, flexible images, and media queries to produce a design that adapts to the user’s environment.

What this implies is that “responsive design” means creating a website that adapts to multiple browsers, window sizes, and devices so that the website design elements are all available when you view it on your tablet or phone, and across a wide number of browsers. Despite the fact that the orientation and screen size of these devices may vary, user demands require an easy way to navigate and condensed version of the main webpage that is viewable from smartphones.

This doesn’t mean simply making everything smaller. It requires developing a site where the entire layout will change based on the environment. For example, let’s take a site that has three columns of text. As you reduce the size of the browser, it should collapse into two and can then collapse again into one. Ideally, the text should also fluidly flow throughout the columns in an intuitive and readable way.


Let’s use a high traffic website like the Boston Globe as an example. While these two layouts don’t change dramatically from one to the other, you can see that as some columns disappear and the elements start to get condensed, the information remains laid out in a readable way.


This does not require laying out the website in a dozen different ways, there are style sheets and shortcodes that can ensure that your website elements adapt based on the device they are being displayed on.

Rearranging the content is the most user-friendly option, as it effectively cleans up all the excess that you want to include on your website, but don’t have room for on a mobile device. It also avoids the need for frustrating pinch and zooming while the user tries to isolate the relevant information. Sidebars with extraneous information, ads, or large navigation bars can be removed, shifted, or condensed to make scrolling through the page as clean and simple as possible as well.

Sounds complicated, but how does it work?

There are a number of tools that we developers employ when creating a website to include responsive web design. Keeping in mind that our first goal as designers is to ensure that everything is flexible and fluid and that the important elements are clear and easy to consume. This means not declaring the height and width of an object in our code, and ensuring that images are automatically adjusted to the maximums available on the device it’s being viewed on.

Through CSS Media Queries style sheets, we can input which elements to show, hide, or condense depending on the maximums allowed on the specific browser.

Throughout this entire process, your developers and designers are working to ensure that the User Interface (UI) is optimized to be enjoyable, aesthetically-pleasing, and interactive. Some best practices when it comes to creating a UI that is responsive include:

  • Develop a layout with purpose; don’t just group things together so they can fit, but rather consider the readability. Think about the way that your visitors navigate through your site.
  • Establishing a visual hierarchy with typography and visual elements that guide your visitor to the information that’s most important
  • Test, test, test: make sure it works and make sure it’s visually appealing

ROI of Intelligent Design

The reason that responsive design has become an industry standard is because of how well it does and what people are currently demanding. Any forward-thinking web design firms in Toronto have to include this functionality in the creation of new websites or web apps.

A recent study reported that only 20% of Mac users maximize their browser windows, meaning that websites are rarely viewed at the largest screen size. Most often, they’re being viewed at a half-screen or three quarter screen size so even the majority of all desktop traffic still requires responsive functionality. For Windows users, the new Snap features brought about in Windows 7, and then enhanced in Windows 10, make it easy for users to quickly split their screen into halves or quarters, meaning your website has to be able to instantly resize to either half or 25% of it’s size in an instant without breaking the user experience.

If your website isn’t easy to navigate at those screen resolutions, users will  get frustrated and they may leave your site entirely. To emphasize the business impact this may have, a recent Catalyst report stated that 80% of smartphone users rely on their phones for internet shopping. Without a site that’s optimized for mobile, you could potentially be losing out on that business.

Additionally, people who rely on their phones for internet access do so to:

  • Find new restaurants: 80%
  • Bank online: 80%
  • Book a flight: 75%
  • Look for a new car: 80%

A report from Google even states that 71% of consumers use their cell phones as an integral part of research, especially while in-store. It goes further than this however, Google now will give preferential treatment to mobile optimized websites in its search rankings. This is a reflection of common usage since more than half of organic traffic is now from mobile. Google even provides a tool to test if your website is considered mobile friendly.

Recent reports even state that an improved website user experience can increase the number of buyers by 40% and increase their order size by 10%. Numbers that can’t be ignored.

At Pixelcarve, we offer web design services in Toronto, and we know that responsive, eye-catching, and appealing design is important in the creation of every website. So if you’ve been looking to upgrade your website, building a custom web app, or are launching a new website, check out our work and get in touch with one of our UI and UX experts today.