Web design is a funny thing. So many of the issues we had over 15 years ago still bother us today! I can remember, quite vividly, how often we would be confounded building web sites for clients when a multitude of desktop web browsers emerged that supported different technologies and standards. As a result, you would build a web site to work for Microsoft’s Internet Explorer web browser but when you viewed it on Netscape or Mozilla, it would look completely different and quite simply not “work” as it was meant to. Therefore, we would then have to look at making compromises to the web design process so as to target the most popular browser and then deliberately downgrade the technology so that it could run across “most” of the more popular web browsers out there. Although these issues have been somewhat improved by the arrival of HTML5 and other “tech” that has made life easier for all those web designers out there, we still face some issues to this very day, and thats just on desktop web browsers.
Fast forward to 2012 and so much has changed about web browsers and accessing the Internet on a global basis. Today, a good number of Internet users do so on mobile devices spanning everything from entry-level and slow GPRS enabled feature phones, to 4G Smartphones and Tablets. In addition, the arrival of fairly user-friendly and cost-effective Internet-connected “Smart” TVs means that we now have a truly broad range of “screens” where one can access the web and apps. Its daunting to say the least and as you can imagine its made life a whole lot more challenging for every web designer out there to make sure a web site can be “consumed” across a mind-boggling range of ever-changing screens. But, alas, something I have been meaning to write about for months about on this blog is the emerging practice (now) known as Responsive Web Design, or, RWD for short. Going by the Wikipedia definition, RWD can be defined as follows:
Responsive Web Design (RWD) an approach to web design in which a designer intends to provide an optimal viewing experience—easy reading and navigation with a minimum of resizing, panning, and scrolling—across a wide range of devices (from desktop computer monitors to mobile phones)
My goal is NOT to inundate you with the technical aspects of how to build and deploy a RWD web site but rather to share with you what I see as the business benefits from a business perspective. You see, especially in Africa, the Internet and access to the web is largely happening on mobile devices. In markets such as Kenya, research from the likes of the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK) suggests that over 90% of Internet access in Kenya is happening via the mobile channel – thats huge, whichever way you look at it (even if its also probably representative of a good number of 3G dongles hooked up to desktop computers and laptops). These sort of numbers are not unique to Kenya and one finds that in many African and other emerging markets, the Internet is indeed mobile. Many of the Internet’s newest Internautes over the past few years have come on-board probably for the very first time and continue to do so on mobile devices. Indeed, the mobile screen IS the Internet and the web for them in all of its myriad forms including mobile apps, social media, etc.
Therefore, from a business perspective, and my excitement in doing this blog post is that RWD is especially important for mobile-centric markets such as Africa. However, if one samples a good number of branded corporate web sites in Kenya, one will note that the majority of them when viewed from a mobile device tend to render very poorly. This ranges from the fact that these web sites, although probably accessed mostly from mobile devices have been designed for a desktop web browser experience with all the requisite and bloated “bells and whistles” such as Flash, etc. Quite simply, this does NOT work for mobile and a RWD compliant approach to building web sites, across the board, is required.
The really cool thing though is that although RWD is only around 2 years old in its current form and fast gaining adoption globally, there are already so many web sites and resources online that you can find via Google to get you started including pre-built templates, code base, etc. Like I said, the main thing is NOT to learn the technical issues but learn as much as you can about it and ensure that whoever is building or managing your web site utilizes RWD, from the bottom up. Indeed, it was only recently that some research from Google found that if consumers could not access your business web site effectively via a mobile device, they would not consider buying your products or services. For me, this is reason enough to get on the RWD bandwagon if nothing else? Its a “build once, run everywhere” model that ensures your web site is reliably visible on all screen sizes and devices irrespective of what they are. Nuff said! See below the infographic explaining RWD in more detail: