About every year I rethink my own strategy and direction for my personal site to make sure that I’m still going down the right path. With my last design iteration (from over a year ago) I tried to infuse more of my personal writing and design concepts in creating an adaptive site. However, based on the last article I wrote I started thinking more about responsive (rather than adaptive) design which has become a passion of mine throughout 2012. Understanding the flow of content and design as it relates to certain devices (mobile, tablet, and desktop) is crucial in creating a seamless user experience.
To Be Imagined
A personal site usually doesn't have the same draw as a large corporate or user community driven site, but if I can’t bring the same standards to my own site how can I convince clients to do the same. Whether a user base is small or large the same care and thought should be placed on the content and design of a site, especially more so when it relates to building an effective responsive design.
The new site design is only in the initial stages, but it will fully leverage a Centurion, an open-source CSS framework that I've been actively developing to help alleviate the headaches of trying to figure out the smaller details of making a design work. However, with Centurion as a base to build a rapid HTML prototypes at least there is no need to reinvent the wheel, but allows you start dealing more about strategy and user experiences that aid your users.
What Will It Take
If your curious about responsive design then I would recommend reading Ethan Marcotte's article “Responsive Web Design” on A List Apart. Responsive design relies on understanding the context of the design. Web sites from about 10 years ago were designed to work on slow connections, were clunky, and didn't allow for much in the way of aesthetics (heck, they even used tables). However, in today we have huge resources at our disposal to bring web to the same level as print was nearly a decade earlier. It’s common knowledge that if you walk down the street you will see about 90% of the people you pass using the web in some way on their smartphones or tablets to communicate. Web is now the standard, but we cannot keep expecting our desktop sites to do be the only medium that our users have in accessing our content or services.
There are staggering statistics that in the next 3-5 years mobile devices will outsell desktop devices worldwide. That is huge! Especially for businesses who haven't yet started to reach into the mobile market that could mean the difference where their users choose a competitor over them. Would you risk that kind of loss? (I know I wouldn't.)
In terms of my own site I have personally started taking a serious interest in looking how users interact use my own site to better understand how to build my own relevancy and deliver an experience that helps them. The last few clients I have worked with all ask for a mobile site, however, few of them understand what that means or how they want to deliver that experience. It isn't enough anymore to make a mobile experience available to your users without first doing the legwork to understand your users. A few good questions that I ask when dealing with responsive designs are:
- How do your users interact with your site?
- What do your users do on your site?
- What devices do your users use while viewing your site?
There may be more questions that people might be thinking now to ask, but those three questions give a good starting picture to understand your users and where you need to take them. A lot of this information can be accessed by using Google Analytics (a free web tool) or any web analytic tools for that matter. Once you let those tools run on your site for a month or so, then you can start seeing your users interact with your site and then decide on how your site should work for users on a mobile and desktop device.
So remember that before you start diving into the realm of mobile or responsive designs ask questions about your users, find out their needs and concerns, and then start to move forward. We can no longer live in the mindset of launching an application and forgetting about it, since the web is a fluid medium design and function have to be fluid and adapt to the context in which it is designed. If that context is not clearly defined then you may lose more than you gain.