Mobile Website or Responsive Design

Posted by Robert Cerff in Websites on 29 August 2014

Tags: mobi, mobile web, ux, website maintenance, website update

We already know that there is big shift towards mobile internet usage with approximately 4 in 10 online users doing so on a mobile device.  It may seem that ideally a website should be able to offer a quality mobile experience without having to change a line of code, but the reality is that a website designed specifically for mobile devices will always provide a much better user experience.

Mobile users aren't simply accessing the internet with a mobile device or simply viewing things on a smaller screen, mobile is a completely different experience with visitors behaving in a completely different way.  Simply put people do not use their smartphones the same way they would use a laptop, desktop or even a tablet.  While a smartphone and tablet share similar functionality it might be the size of the screen that makes all the difference.  While being able to use a physical keyboard or mouse may change how someone interacts with a device and subsequently the web as a whole.

The mobile experience often requires its own set of design considerations.  Mobile users operate differently to desktop users often requiring a different user experience in its entirety.  There are generally two methods of delivering content to a mobile user, creating a mobile website or developing a website that is device and screen responsive.

Mobile Web Design:
This is a website that has been designed specifically for a mobile device.  These websites are developed to work optimally on smaller screens and maximising the functionality of a mobile device.  Mobile websites are often developed to act as a light weight version of the full website offering similar content but in a different format.

Responsive Web Design:
This is a method of web development that serves a website with minimal resizing, panning or scrolling across a wide range of devices (from mobile phones to desktop computers).  A website developed this way adapts the layout to the viewing environment by using page sizing, flexible images and media queries allowing the page to use different styles so that the display best suites the device being used.

So which is preferable?

While there is no definitive answer to this question, for websites that deliver content, such as a blog or news website, a responsive design is preferred.  This content will be the same regardless of how a visitor is viewing the website. For websites marketing a service or a product, the best option remains a separate mobile website with content uniquely suited to mobile users, delivered in a way that is best supported by these devices.

So how do I choose how to develop a mobile experience?

Responsive design is great, it allows the developer to keep all of their working code in a single location and carry changes across multiple devices in a single update.  If mobile optimisation is your goal, to create a truly fantastic mobile experience then a separate mobile website should be created.  If the answer to the question, "Will the behaviour of mobile visitors differ from that of a desktop user" is a yes, then the best option will remain a dedicated mobile website.

More on this topic can be found at Blue Train Mobile and W3.org.