Prior to responsive design, designing for a mobile website typically meant a lot of additional time by development teams to create a separate, mobile site, leading to a web build that was ultimately more costly to the customer. Although it wasn’t efficient to build a website more than once, that was just how things were done.
In looking at the rapid growth of responsive web design over the past few years, it's almost difficult to imagine the internet existed without it. Back in 2010, articles about responsive design began by exploring media queries and breaking sites down into three simple categories: mobile, tablet and desktop.
Over the next two years, a multitude of devices started to actually break these first-level responsive sites, because of their varying sizes, browsers and orientations. Yes, all screen sizes needed to be accounted for in the new responsive world. But how could you make hundreds of versions of the same website and still make a profit? It’s this question that lead to modern-day responsive design techniques.
These days, instead of designing and developing a website across three screen sizes, we consolidate and re-interpret a website across ALL varying sizes. No matter what size the screen is, a responsive website will work intuitively and "respond" to the viewport to display correctly.
But what works on a desktop doesn't always necessarily work on a phone. For example, certain interactions, such as a cursor hover, have no place on a touchscreen display. By understanding how users interact with a website through analytics and testing, you can design for a better user experience that anticipates these potential problems.
Building a responsive site today still has its challenges, but, overall, there seems to be a standard process emerging. For example, site navigations that once had been scrawled across the top of the page are now a click or touch away in a hidden menu, allowing users across all platforms to conveniently navigate a site. Icons also help users identify sections of a website while saving space for mobile and tablet views. Thankfully, users are becoming more in tune with the natural evolutions of these design elements.
So how will responsive design continue to evolve? A good way to anticipate potential changes is by looking at the sustainability of a website. Every developer has had a project that forced him or her to go back to the drawing board. But we shouldn't be designing and developing this way. This method is similar to buying a new car, and instead of changing the oil after 3000 miles, you throw it out altogether and buy a another car. You see, the problem wasn't the car; it was the oil. We need to begin to address the processes that creating a website for a client entails.
Websites should grow and evolve based on their readership, user base and target audience. As content grows, finding new and intuitive ways to display content should be the priority. The website should systematically grow with these new developments.
If we begin to look at websites more in this fashion, I believe our work will be more fulfilling and our clients will be much happier knowing that they are continually evolving year after year. Building a website from scratch takes a lot of hard work and dedication, and customer loyalty is a big part of that build. If we can focus more on our own methodology, that will allow us to grow along side of constantly changing technologies.