I had the responsive design vs. mobile website debate inside my head for a couple months. I really thought I would end up with a mobile website until the last week or so of that battle that raged between my ears.
Obviously, I decided to go with responsive design. Here are a few factors that influenced my decision.
The biggest thing that I kept coming back to was the user experience. Regardless of which direction I would choose, I wanted to make sure the mobile visitor would have a positive experience and want to come back.
For the longest time, I thought the mobile website was the only way to provide that user experience because the site would be completely customized and optimized for mobile. I felt like responsive design was almost a shortcut. And I hate shortcuts.
Then I read about some of the drawbacks that many analysts have associated with a mobile website – an inconsistent experience, or a different look and feel compared to the desktop site.
Quite frankly, those negatives didn’t end up influencing my decision. The more I thought about it, the more I realized you can avoid those negatives by doing one simple thing – build the damn thing the right way. Of course you’ll have inconsistencies if you don’t make sure the two websites are cohesive. So make them cohesive.
That does lead me to one reason why I chose responsive design over a mobile website. Two websites. I had separate logins for my website and blog at the time, and a mobile website would give me a third. Moving everything to a responsive design theme in WordPress allowed me to get everything under one roof.
One website. Easy maintenance.
Again, would that mean I was taking a shortcut? No, because the user experience wouldn’t be compromised. For my particular website, the needs of the desktop visitor and the mobile visitor are virtually identical.
Let’s be honest. My website is pretty simple and straightforward. I’m a copywriter first and foremost, so content is the star of my website, and content transfers easily to a mobile screen.
I did streamline my content a bit and incorporate more visual elements to make my site more mobile-friendly, but this only enhanced my desktop site, too. The more concise the content is, the better.
This is when I realized that the customizations available through a responsive design theme were more than adequate for my particular website. I don’t think that’s true for more complicated websites, but for my website, the user experience would be just fine.
Then there’s the SEO factor. Google actually recommends responsive design, although it does support sites that dynamically serve the same URL on all devices, as well as those that have separate mobile and desktop URLs.
Finally, as much research as I did into mobile websites, I wasn’t 100% comfortable with my knowledge about how they’re designed and maintained. After user experience, that was the clincher. I could go into WordPress and play with different things. Try different approaches. I didn’t know if I could do that with a mobile website, and I like to deal with the known quantity.
Why I Include the “For Now” Disclaimer
Right now, we’re designing for desktop and laptop computers first and mobile devices second. But mobile browsing is expected to overtake desktop browsing this year. As desktop and laptop computers, to quote Mike Tyson, “fade into Bolivian,” we’ll need to start designing for mobile devices first.
When we reach that tipping point, I think one of two things will need to happen. Either mobile websites will become an absolute must-have, or responsive design will start with the mobile device. Can you even design from a small screen first? I don’t know, but I’m just the content and marketing strategy guy. Thank goodness for developers and designers.
My head convinced me that responsive design is the best choice for me – right now – but my gut tells me that a mobile website may just be the better long-term investment. If 2013 is the year of responsive design, and mobile’s explosive growth continues, 2015 will be the year of the mobile website.
What about you? Responsive design or mobile website?