Today, I tweeted:
Following this tweet, I was asked by @lhid to provide some context. Here we go:
Recently, responsive web design seems to have become the default strategy for a lot of large redesign projects. And they seem to be quite successful so far! Good for them.
When building a responsive website and it is successful, we could mistake RWD for the reason behind its success. If we measure success by comparing a new shiny responsive site to crappy, old desktop and mobile sites, in a space where mobile and tablet usage is growing at an unprecedented pace… Of course the new responsive site will perform well.
Recent redesigns reveal RWD shows good results when limited to mobile and tablet. Unfortunately it struggles to provide an optimal, clean and light output on desktop at the same time. Responsive sites tend to use cutting edge web technologies that may leave a lot of our desktop users behind (especially those in corporate environments). Can we afford to lose these desktop users so that we can satisfy more mobile and tablet users? And if we wish to support these older browsers, can we accept the hit on mobile performance that might flow from all the extra code? These are so many hard choices we should not have to constantly make…
I have faith RWD will make sense in the future as a global strategy, but not today. Our tools and processes are too young and too poorly capable to help us delivering truly great experiences to all of our users on a fully responsive website. Design tools, web standards, browsers, development techniques and advertisement: they all need to mature a lot before RWD shows what it really is capable of. I also have hopes that the web will catch up with apps in many regards, as native apps are known to be a much higher engagement driver than websites (which is why they are still part of today’s equation).
Responsive Web Design is not the answer, it is just part of it.
There are viable alternatives to fully responsive websites. I’d encourage building multiple experiences on the same core architecture, catering for both users and business needs, respecting content and feature parity across platforms, using tools and processes we already know. It can help us understand technology and master new processes in agility, so that we are ready when the rest of the ecosystem finally is too.
In the mean time, I really like the idea of a partially responsive site with dedicated experiences for the parts where RWD fails to provide an acceptable experience. If I have the chance to test this approach at the Guardian, I will write on this subject in the next few weeks.