You might of heard the term 'Responsive Web Design' discussed around the web world recently, with web designers hailing responsive web design as the best thing since sliced bread, or... the last 'next best thing' in web development. But responsive design is a real game changer for the web - so what is a responsive website, and how will it improve my own - already well designed - business website?

What is a responsive website?

Responsive websites are actually not a new thing – in fact around a decade ago it was very common to create websites that were fluid and flexible, as web designers never really knew what size of computer monitor their websites would be seen in. The same website would need to look great on a 17in CRT monitor, or on a larger 24in flat screen monitor which were just taking over from the old CRT technology. So you would build the website to have a width of 100%, and the old fashioned HTML layout tables in the site design would flex and squash down to whatever size monitor was being used.

This was an early form of responsive design – albeit a very basic and ill thought out one. But then came along the ubiquitous “960 grid” with the advent of the mighty iPad, and thinks went a bit... inflexible.

Fixed grid websites – the worst idea ever?

No, but fixed grid layouts dominated the web design world for a few years just after the surprising and unparalleled success of the Apple iPad. In a panic web designers created fixed width grids based layouts, which would look absolutely perfect on an iPad, but very narrow on any larger desktop or laptop monitor. You still see a few of these around – the very tall and skinny 960px wide websites from that era that can barely cram in all their content

The other problem with fixed grid websites were they did not work on smaller mobile devices – iPhones and smaller tablets such as the 7in Android Galaxy. A new design philosophy was needed, and it came in the form of responsive website boilerplates.

Responsive boilerplates - sliced bread for web designers

So what is so special about these newfangled, responsive websites? Well for one thing they are smart, really smart in fact – they use state of the art media queries and web coding techniques to adapt dynamically to any web-browsing device, be it a 4inch screen on a smart phone, to a wall mounting 50in smart TV.

In the old days of web design all you needed to worry about was making sure your website looked good in various size computer monitors, now of course you have smart phones, internet-enabled widescreen TVs, tablets in all sizes and the soon-to-be-released wearable mobile devices. Yes – your website might have to work on a watch! Yikes.

You might be thinking that the shiny new website you had built for your business a few years ago can't be outdated already, even though it is not responsive, but all very nice? Our advice is to have your website re-built using responsive technology as soon as possible – the online world changes at such a rapid pace, and the fact is over 60% of all your visitors will now be viewing your website on a 4in smart phone in 2014 and beyond.

If your site isn't responsive then your users will have a reduced experience visiting your website – and that's a lot of traffic and potential business that could be gone forever.

Responsive websites are built and designed to be very easy to read on smart phones, and simple to navigate on touch screen devices. If your website is not responsive then the text will appear very tiny on a phone browser and users will need to zoom in to read it – argh, so very annoying. If your links and buttons are too small to touch on an iPhone then users can't navigate around your site. Congratulations – you just lost a potential client!

What's the future of web design – are responsive website a worthwhile investment?

Undoubtedly, the future of the web is mobile. Customers will soon do 80% or more of their web browsing on small, mobile and wearable devices so responsive website building technology has never been more important, or so advanced and useful. Some websites are even already blurring the lines between traditional websites and mobile apps – in fact these hybrid apps are somewhere in between, and are built for 'mobile devices first'.

So if your business website is not up speed with the modern age, then it's time to go responsive – and make sure that the vast majority of your website visitors never need to zoom in on tiny text or try to navigate fiddly navigation again.

Examples of Clear Signal responsive web design

Author: Spencer Ide