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OK, I’m going to say it… responsive websites are failing to deliver.

Date Posted: 14/11/2016 11:45:31
Posted By: Geometry PR

[David Mclean questions the current vogue for responsive websites]

Those of us old enough to remember the gloriously exciting World Wide Web land grab of the late 90s / early 00s - when everybody was rushing to build themselves a website - will recall the fashion for splash landing pages that typically featured little more than a logo. If you had the budget you’d spend a bit more to get your logo spinning, for no other reason than it looked cool. Of course it took longer for the page to load and served no real purpose, but hey, dig the spinning logo which the head of marketing and the web dudes assure us is ‘strong brand reinforcement’.

That fashion, like the hypercolour t-shirts of the web dudes, fortunately died out, and the world of web design pretty much settled down and became a lot more sensible for a great many years... until the arrival of the Internet enabled mobile device, and in particular the smartphone.

As mobile screen sizes increased, so did the frustration that websites were difficult to view and navigate on a handheld device. The initial makeshift solution to this problem was to have two parallel websites – one suitable for desktop viewing, and a second suitable for mobile devices. A couple of lines of sniffer code would detect the platform calling in to the domain, and would direct the viewer to whichever site was more suitable.

But then along came the idea of the responsive website – one lump of code that would essentially shuffle and resize elements on the webpage according to the platform and browser of the person viewing the site. This would do away with the need for two parallel sites. It’s a great idea in theory, but in execution it’s increasingly looking like this ‘one (re)size fits all’ approach is actually delivering a lesser experience for those viewing the site on the traditional desktop or laptop.

The problem appears to be that mobile viewing is given priority, and when you view a responsive website on a desktop or laptop it feels very much like we’ve returned to the days of the splash landing page. It’s as if the web dudes never actually threw away their hypercolour t-shirts, they just stashed them in the bottom drawer.

With responsive websites, desktop users are all too often presented with a lot of wasted space on screen and scant content, because the owners/developers of the site consider too much content to be unattractive or unsuitable for a smartphone. So we’ve arrived at a place where content is often reduced to mere summaries and soundbites, quotes, and (the ultimate sin) inspirational sloganeering which looks fine on your smartphone, but is trivial on a desktop.

Scrolling down overlong web pages to try and find content of any real value is now the order of the day, but, if it exists at all, is increasingly hard to find in amongst all the background graphics, scrolling pictures, calendar widgets and other fluffy stuff.

Of course not all responsive websites are bad, just the majority in my opinion, because ultimately they fail deliver a true cross-platform experience.

I get that most Internet traffic is now through mobile devices, but the vast majority of that Internet traffic is for civilian social media. Most business and commercial Internet traffic still goes through the trusty desktop. So for corporate websites you have to wonder whether a responsive website, which is thin on content, but rich on eye candy, is necessarily the best option for business. At this moment in time, I’m not convinced it is.