The last big thing in web design has been responsive (or, adaptive) design. This demand for scalable, fluid and flexible layouts has captured web designers’ attention so intensively that they no longer have a need to prove their creativity with excessive gizmos, gadgets, games and animations. This has turned into an astonishing win-win situation for customers and end users!
Of course, responsive web sites are more accessible and they offer better support for versatile end devices. But as a consequence, focus on responsive design also has side effects that have led to improvements in the overall quality of web contents, user experience and usability.
1. Condensed information
The “mobile first” approach makes it obvious that you cannot waste any screen estate. This has forced the content managers to capsulize their message and to think hard what they really need to say. There is no room for babble, so the copywriting is more spot-on.
And when the content editors can no longer use their energy on micro-managing the appearance of their web pages (for it varies from screen to screen), they can concentrate on the actual content.
2. More services, less novels
Following the first point, the content managers (and designers) have realized that they cannot rely on comprehensive textual packages on their web sites. You cannot publish hundreds of pages of background information, user guides, disclaimers and other novels on your site anymore (not that anybody read them in the first place). Instead, the users have to be guided to actual services, contacts, products, orders or interactions you offer to them, and all the information considering these must be given in context.
This has led to an increasing number of truly value-added online applications: widgets and wizards that clarify information, visualise personal options or calculate data by your personal situation. And these applications are actually worth the investment.
3. Contextual navigation
Most prominent change in the web design paradigm can be seen in the role and modifications of navigation bars. When the navigation menu bars are hidden behind a single menu button, the users can no longer be guided to find their navigational options via comprehensive hierarchical menu items. The designers and content managers are forced to think through the continuum of the user path case-by-case, and all the links, buttons and calls-to-action in each display need to be hand-picked to suit the purpose. This improves the user experience enormously.
The downside of this trend is that the designers are turning their backs on navigation bars even in desktop layouts. Following the trend, navigation menus are condemned as a passé UX element for dummies. Yet, many web sites still have hundreds of pages and a complex content structure that screams for navigational aid. If they fit the screen, menu bars are a well-advised help for detecting one’s location on the site and scanning the options for navigation.
4. Functionalities are actually functioning
Because the number of supported browser versions and end devices has exploded, it is not possible to design and adjust the user interfaces for each one individually. This calls for general, standard solutions that are known to work with the whole spectrum of browsers. And as the implementations comply with the web standards, the end users are provided with more and more web sites that actually work properly.
And also, when the different breakpoints of responsive design need to be tested on various end devices, the testing methods are getting automated and more efficient all the time. And all the suppliers need to take testing into serious consideration.
And as a result, we can all enjoy more reliable and proper functioning web sites!