The Importance of Responsive Design – A personal experience

Published: August 11, 2015

Five years ago I took the plunge into the wonderful world of the smartphone. I’d been using the mobile web on-and-off for a couple of years on my low-powered old Samsung phone, but it was a thoroughly unpleasant experience, rife with poorly-designed mobile websites hiding information behind labyrinthine menu structures. With my new HTC Desire though I’d be able to experience the web as its designers meant me to.
I was rather surprised, therefore, to find that I was getting roughly the same mobile experience on my high-end smartphone as I was on my low-tech feature phone. None of the websites I’d visit in the phone’s browser seemed optimised for mobile browsing, it was an overall unpleasant experience. I ended up having to use a browser (Dolphin) which let me spoof a desktop user-agent so I could actually see the content I requested.

Three years ago, the Desire having outlived its usefulness, I upgraded to the phone-du-jour, a Galaxy S3. I hoped that, in the intervening two years, with smartphones getting huge, I’d be able to dispense with my habits of browsing desktop-optimised websites on a (relatively) small screen, but this was not to be. Despite the upgraded power of the Galaxy, websites were just as sluggish and unresponsive as when I was browsing with the Desire.
I’m a bit of a tech geek, so I tend to upgrade my phones relatively often, so 2014 saw the purchase of a shiny new LG G3, with a bigger screen and a frankly silly screen resolution. Due to inertia and habit, I continued to browse using Dolphin, as I did five years ago, requesting desktop versions of mobile sites, unaware of the shifts going on behind the scenes. With Google’s algorithm changes in April 2015, responsive web design had suddenly become not only useful but entirely necessary. Despite carrying a mobile supercomputer in my pocket, the mobile web still looked pretty rubbish to me.
And so recently, on a whim, I switched browsers to something a bit more modern. While it might have won awards back in 2011 and 2012, Dolphin’s showing its age a bit, so I decided to try out Mozilla’s mobile offering and started using Firefox. It seems that, while I’ve been ignoring it, the mobile web actually became usable, and it’s all thanks to responsive web design. No longer do I have to go through the cumbersome process of requesting desktop sites then trying to navigate the tiny menus to get to the page I want. Everything from my news sources to my social media is presented in a mobile-optimised format, the information isn’t hidden behind awful mobile websites or splash screens asking I download an app.
What does this mean for schools? It means that if your website isn’t responsive, you’re missing out on engaging parents. People getting their first smartphone now won’t be using Dolphin, they’ll be using Chrome or something similar – they won’t be requesting desktop views, they’ll be wanting the information right underneath their thumbs, and you need to provide it to them. 60% of web browsing is now done on the phone, can you afford to cut them out or give them a substandard experience?
Is your site responsive? You can check it using Google’s own mobile-friendly test tool. Come up negative? Give School Jotter a try. All new Jotter school websites are fully responsive and mobile optimised.