As mobile becomes an increasingly important aspect of nearly every company's long-term plan, there has been much debate over where responsive design should fit in that strategy. Organizations are always looking for ways to spend their resources more efficiently, and responsive design has helped reach that goal.
Reaching all consumers and all their devices with one development cycle is a quick and easy way to "go mobile." However, once the consumer has gone to your business' website, how do you keep the format compelling?
That is where companies must best find the right balance. Although responsive design may solve all your problems quickly, it may not be the best way to create innovative user experiences across multiple platforms.
The most obvious advantage of using responsive design is that developers are able to cut down on costs. By utilizing specific style sheets, a designer can leverage all of the same programming to format the content to a specific form factor. By doing so, the universal structure on all devices would be primarily consistent.
However, since you are trying to create a dynamic solution based upon some known and unknown variables, you will need substantial testing to ensure the website recognizes and adapts correctly to each device.
A similar example took place during the implementation of Java. When Java was first introduced, the most compelling argument was "write once, run everywhere," but in actuality, it became "write once, test everywhere." Despite the fact that Java was consistent on all formats, the implementation of it was different on various devices.
To help offset challenges like this, companies choosing responsive design will need to define specific scenarios that will present the content in a semi-targeted way and make sure the programming is basic enough to work on desktop, mobile, tablets, etc.
The key component to being successful is integrating it into your marketing strategy, rather than making it the sole focus of your campaign. The goal of responsive design is to give the most optimal user experience with the least amount of cost.
But what if there is a specific platform that is worth the additional allocation of resources? Here is where company leadership must properly weigh cost with ROI. The LinkedIn app on the iPad is a great example of an organization choosing to spend the additional money for a more innovative user experience. That UI is not something that could be accomplished by utilizing responsive design through a browser. Clearly, LinkedIn thought it was worth the cost of developing an application that maximizes the usability of iPad form factor.
In short, responsive design is neither the right nor the wrong path, it is simply an option. In fact, for most companies, a hybrid is usually the best way to go. This allows them to limit their investment with responsive design, while at the same time evaluating each platform specifically and determining if a device-specific website is worth the investment.
Many smart business leaders are using free services like Google Analytics to track the usage on their website and help validate whether a platform-specific app would be right for their customer base.
In the end, it all comes down to finding the best ways to interact and engage your customers. Responsive design is one such strategy, and it should be one of the tools in your tool chest.
Patrick Emmons is co-founder of Adage Technologies.
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