Responsive Websites Are Not a Panacea

by Arthur Hart

These days there’s a lot of talk about websites that respond to the type of device they are being displayed on. This is all fine if you want the website to respond to screen touches if it is being displayed on a touch-screen device or provide click to call capability if they are being displayed on an iPhone.

However, I take issue with the prevalent advice of today’s design gurus that a website should be cut back in scope and display only a minimal amount of information (mostly contact information) when it is being displayed on a small-screen mobile device. Their argument is that the website is too small to be useful if you display the entire page on an iPhone screen. They would have us offer up a much reduced version of the website that simply provides a way for the user to conveniently get in touch with the company.

As is usually the case, such advice has limits of applicability.  It applies best if the company is a well-known, national brand. In this case, people don’t need to see all the promotional offering and other details that they would find when accessing the website via their large-screen monitors or even their iPad. For such companies, it does stand to reason that when someone is accessing their website via a small-screen mobile device they are probably just interested in finding out how to get in touch with the company that they are already familiar with.

On the other hand, for smaller, less well-known companies, people may well need to see some relevant information about the company and its products before they are sure they even want to contact them. It’s obviously a disservice to both the company and the user to just give them contact information without adequate information with which to decide if they want to contact the company. This means that for these situations, it is important to somehow show all the information they would find if they were to find the website via a large-screen device.

Even though there are techniques available for displaying only the top left portion of the webpage when accessing it via a small-screen device, I personally favor initially showing the entire page and then relying on the user to zoom in to whatever portion of the page they want to investigate further. This is more in line with the traditional “top down” approach of showing the “big picture” first and letting users drill down to find the details. Otherwise, they only get to see a portion of the overall picture at first and then have to go hunting to find what else may be there.

Responsive websites definitely have their place in accommodating the more modern technologies of touch-screens and click-to-call, but many situations are better served by simply sticking with showing the user the full story as laid out for a large-screen device and relying on them to utilize the zooming in capabilities of the small-screen devices.

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