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“Make it Responsive”

A phrase thrown around quite commonly when discussing websites, “responsiveness” has come to denote a website or application’s ability to adjust to various devices. For the most part, this translates to a website that scales to different effect with different devices and/or screen sizes.

But is the type of device that you use the only thing that should be determining your web experience? In an article published by Fast Company, titled the Future of Responsive Design, various other considerations are put forward as possible triggers for responsiveness. These include your current location, previous articles or pages that you have viewed, the time of day, the weather, and just about anything else that you can think of. But what do we utilize when designing a unique online experience? What matters to someone when they are browsing the web?

The most common, and admittedly fairly poor, example of this kind of responsiveness, in terms of catering to “individuality”, can be seen with online advertising. The ads that you see on your Facebook feed are specifically targeted at you. A machine somewhere latches on to a scrap of information about you, and suddenly, “oh, you’re a woman! I know! You must want to sell your eggs, right?” No.

For your entertainment, see some equally bad examples of “responsive” advertising below.

facebook advertising

A better example of content responsiveness would be social media sites that cater almost specifically for the individual. You essentially create your own Facebook feed, by deciding who you are friends with, which pages you like, how much information you reveal, etc.

However much you choose to engage with content on a site like Facebook, one thing remains clear: the use of web page templates has become an industry standard. No matter how different your brand, product, or band is, each page looks exactly the same.  Besides for the 80×80 pixel profile picture and the newer cover photo, your page looks just like everyone else’s.

So how do we strike a balance between content and viewer?

At the end of the day, good design is good communication.  If your layout can adjust to the type of content you’re presenting, it will be more effective in communicating. You cannot expect a design to be as effective as it possibly could be when it hasn’t been considered in itself, but rather as an extension of the great big creature simply known as “your website”. A photo essay is not the same as an article about dog costumes, yet because of the nature of their content, you may find that similar elements become important to the viewer. Images, for example, would probably be the most important element of each article. Any other information is secondary, because all initial impressions rely on the imagery.

Doubtless, incorporating these considerations into your design requires time, effort, and money, three notoriously elusive commodities. So what do we do, as a small South African agency without access to a lot of first world tools?

We think.

We sit and carefully consider user experience, content hierarchies, and what it means to effectively communicate. Being in situations where technology or limited resources discourage you from your goal, while challenging and frustrating, also forces you to focus on the most essential aspects. What is the key message? What is the easiest, most effective way of communicating that message? How does that message change depending on who is receiving it?

At the end of the day, we often have to make due with what we have. Although the future of responsiveness as proposed in the original article seems like something that should be fairly obvious, implementing such ideas is often a far-off reality for the majority of the world. It then comes back to the designers and other creative problem solvers to break the mold of what we think we can do, providing solutions instead of problems.


By Mea Jordaan 


One Comment

  • I really like the starting point of this article, however it seems like some concepts got mixed up in the process. “Responsive advertising” has nothing to do with a website’s responsive layout. The responsive advertising that you mention above is nothing else but dynamic content that is determined by indeed the user context. However, you are correct that the user experience research can establish a better responsive layout and content prioritisation. The real value comes in when the website’s content can adjust with the responsive layout to answer the specific user needs in their current context. Good luck with figuring out these concepts. You’re on the right track :)

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