Pros & Cons: Responsive Web Design (RWD Part 2 of 2)

Sunday, 17 November 2013 § 0

Last week I talked about what RWD is and why m-dot sites suck. Here’s a pros and cons list to show why RWD is becoming the new best practice, and what challenges firms will face along the way.


One code to rule them all
Having one code means having one site, which means you avoid having to maintain, test, and re-write separate desktop and m-dot sites. This also means that you’ll have one team working on your one site, instead of possibly having two teams.

SEO won’t be spread thin
Your desktop and m-dot site won’t be competing against each other for the top ranking.

Consistent UX
As mentioned in the last RWD post, different screens and devices should be considered facets of the same experience, not an experience composed of disjointed ones.  

Google says you should do it
Google prefers you only have one URL. You should probably listen to Google.

Optimizes presentation of content and navigation
The way your website looks to the user is consistent across all platforms, and is completely in your control. Companies won’t have to worry about whether or not their navigation menus or images will be rendered properly when viewed on a small screen or when the browser is resized.

Not as risky for small companies or websites with few pages
The fewer the pages, the less rewriting, testing, and maintaining developers will have to do.

Advertising can be streamlined
Ads were normally sold based on the desktop or m-dot sites, with m-dot ad space as an “add on.” Now, ads can be packaged as a “single booking” with a mobile/tablet opt-out. But given the fact that so many people are using their mobile devices to browse the web, advertisers would be hard-pressed to find a reason why they would want to opt out of reaching so many people.


It’s complex
A lot of people don’t fully understand what RWD is, they see it as a big scary new technology, when it’s really just a new way of designing websites. Because of this, there has been relatively low adoption from anyone outside of tech blogs, web design firms, and early adopters like The Boston Globe. Despite these skewed perceptions, there is still a lot of work involved in rewriting the front-end code:

  • Breakpoints, the screen size at which a piece of code will be triggered to resize or reconfigure the components of the page, need to be determined for different screen sizes.
  • Graceful degradation needs to be considered. Your site might collapse to a single-column mobile site from a three-column desktop site. You’ll need to consider the ease of navigation and the user experience.

It’s costly and time-consuming
As mentioned, there’s a lot of rewriting to do, and it may require specialised web developers and a large initial investment.

RWD isn’t supported by older browsers
Although, this shouldn’t be a huge problem given that the majority of users are using up-to-date browsers.

Load times may be slow on mobile
When a website uploads a picture onto their page, they’re uploading an image that is the best resolution for a desktop computer. So when a user is loading the page on their phone, they’re downloading the full image, it’s just being resized to fit your 4.7-inch screen. 

Risky for large companies or websites with a lot of pages
Given the amount of rewriting, testing, and maintaining involved, the RWD facelift is a huge investment both in time, cost, and expertise. 

Existing web servers are not compatible for RWD
Desktop servers simply require the user to fetch the information. This requires a lot of work from the browser, but it’s not a huge deal since most people have relatively fast Internet speeds and don’t have to worry about data usage. Mobile ad servers, on the other hand, have to worry about speed and data usage but also have to work with slower Internet speeds. RWD websites will need both a desktop and mobile ad server to host ads since there are no existing web servers that are optimised for both.

Advertising can also get complex
Marketers may not be able to tailor their ads to different user environments or contexts. In a previous blog, I discuss playing a “catch me if you can” game with consumers, where consumers engage in multi-device web browsing. Ads that target those on their phones on the bus will be different from those on their tablets at home or sitting in the office in front of their desktop computer. If a website is selling ad spots on their RWD website, how will the website determine which spots will be designated to mobile-targeted ads? It could be based on pre-set parameters such as breakpoints, but…

Ad tags make things even more complicated

An ad tag is a tag that helps Google determine whether or not an ad is appropriate for any given online ad space. As mentioned, marketers want to target consumers based on context and device. As a result, ad tags tend to differ between mobile and desktop sites. This means that developers will have to decide which ad tags will be appropriate for which break points.

In some cases, RWD may not be attainable, especially given the substantial initial investment (both in terms of time and money) involved. However, RWD seems to be the new "best practice" for web design. What are your thoughts? 


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