Monday, 4 March 2013

RWD isn't to blame for your website being fat

Are you serving core content that needs to be available for display on all devices, but want a "richer" experience for those on a desktop (for example)? After a little discussion on Twitter today it's dawned on me that people may well be misrepresenting this "problem" as one that responsive web design can't deal with.

The idea goes that you have too much content on your page to resize down to mobile, so RWD must be the wrong approach, since it is RWD that is causing us to load the whole desktop site and then hide most of it for mobile.

This is NOT a RWD problem

If your choice is between RWD, or creating a mobile only version, then we can tick one thing off the list... your system is good enough to allow you to pick and choose your content to display. This is a positive, it means we can differentiate between content.

The reason this is positive for RWD is it means that you can define your "basic" site as the one that everyone will receive...and then you can progressively enhance it. You could do this via the server side or via javascript, you could try "browser sniffing" or just utilising viewport width detection. There are a number of ways you could make the decision on when a site goes from "basic" to "premium". You can even make multiple steps, for example if you knew you needed to have a different set of content on tablet, but not quite as much as a desktop.

Take a look at this (rough) example for how it works

If we can do this we don't have a problem with RWD, but rather a complicated relationship with our content. Indeed if we have too much content for the site, then the planning and strategy for the content has failed. If the content is all needed, then we are simply facing a UX problem...a UX problem that RWD can still lay on top of to ensure that a variety of different screen sizes, and orientations, are utilised to their fullest.

It seems a lot of people are railing against RWD without fully understanding what it is. It is fundamentally not a tool, it's a concept. You can choose to not use it (or be forced in to not using it) however all you're doing is creating a situation where the customer at the end of the experience has something that they have to work to use, that is likely to be less intuitive and harder to follow.

If problems arise with sites that use RWD I will bet that the primary reason they've failed is because of the person that has designed/built them. A lack of respect for accessibility is endemic in our profession, for example, and with a recent spike in the average "page weight" it would seem that style has trumped user experience metrics when it comes to delivering sexy, but bloated, one page scrolling one page websites (for example). It is us, the workers, that aren't disciplined; not the concept of RWD, as far as I can see for now.

Do you have criticisms of RWD? I'd love to hear examples of where the practice of ensuring that a webpage displays optimally at any screen size is somehow something we shouldn't be doing in some circumstances. So far the only example I've heard that I agree with is that budgets may constrain the amount of time that can be spent on a project and make RWD non-viable (but even then I'd argue that a good chat around future cost savings should be had around this issue), so I'd love to hear some more.