With the ever-increasing amount of mobile devices online today it is important for organizations to determine which mobile optimization methods are best suited to reach their intended audience. “Mobile commerce is expected to reach $31 billion by the end of 2016” (methodfactory.com). As mobile traffic continues to increase, web design methods must accommodate users and give them the best overall experience. As a web designer, you only have one chance to make a great first impression, and in the case of mobile web users, a first impression could happen within a matter of seconds. Nearly 40% of people who visit websites that take three seconds or longer to load become frustrated, leave, and never return, which is why making a good first impression is extremely important (business2community.com).
This article covers the three most common web design approaches to reach mobile users. One approach, responsive web design, focuses on how a site conforms to the device that is being used to view it. Another approach, mobile web design, is solely dedicated to mobile platforms such as smartphones or tablets. The third approach, native apps, which is more of a software application than an actual website, allows for the integration of device features such as a camera or GPS. These methods have strengths and shortcomings, and the article summarizes the pros and cons of each method.
Responsive Web Design
As mentioned above, responsive web design focuses on how the site appears on any given device. A responsive design website automatically fits the screen size of the device being used to view it. This allows you to capture a broader audience since responsive sites are designed to load on both mobile and desktop browsers. Among mobile design methods, responsive is the more cost effective regarding ongoing maintenance because there is only one site and URL to maintain. In addition to being cost effective, the responsive method is also recognized by Google as the best design pattern (developers.google.com). This is important to consider because Google started using mobile friendly websites as a factor in search engine rankings in early 2015 (business2community.com). On the other hand, trying to accommodate both mobile and desktop users with the same interface may end up having a negative effect on the layout of the website for all users (designmodo.com). Also, older browsers and devices may take longer than expected to load a responsive web page. Although more efficient for ongoing maintenance, the upfront development cost of responsive websites can be higher than mobile web or native apps.
Mobile Web Design
Mobile web design is specifically intended for mobile platforms and website content is typically kept at a minimum in comparison to desktop-oriented websites to ensure faster loading time. Because there are so many mobile device types, operating systems, and screen sizes used today, mobile design must also be somewhat “responsive.” As with responsive web design, mobile design has its fair share of drawbacks. First, there are two websites to maintain and two URLs. Mobile users may have to wait longer to be redirected from sites intended for desktop browsers. Since there are two websites to maintain the added cost will be a factor. Lastly, since there are so many types of mobile devices and browsers to accommodate, the user experience may vary across these devices.
Native apps, like mobile websites, are designed specifically for mobile devices, but unlike mobile websites, native apps are geared toward a very specific audience (designmodo.com). Apps take advantage of device features such as GPS and cameras. Since they do not require a browser, users may interact with features while offline (information-age.com). Like the other solutions, apps have downsides. The cost to develop and deploy an app is higher, and since apps are operating system (OS) specific, the cost to make apps available on multiple OS platforms are even higher. Other considerations are apps must be approved by the operating system’s app store, and 30% of earned revenue goes to the OS app store.
There is no “one size fits all” solution for web design to reach the growing number of mobile users. If you want to reach a larger audience, responsive web design may be the way to go. For those with performance in mind, mobile web design, or native apps may be the better choice. Sometimes a combination of multiple options may work best if budget and resources allow for it. Ultimately, the target audience should be the main factor in choosing which web design solution meets your business goals. User experience research can help you determine the best strategy.
What web design solutions do you use and how do you obtain feedback from your users? Please share below.
CATMEDIA is an award-winning Inc. 500 company based in Atlanta, Georgia. Founded in 1997, the company specializes in advertising, creative services, media production, program management, training, and human resource management. As a Women Owned Small Business (WOSB), CATMEDIA provides world-class customer service and innovative solutions to government and commercial clients. Current CATMEDIA clients include Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Office of Personnel Management (OPM), and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).