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The Usability Blog
A Practical Guide to User Experience Insights

The Case for RWD

A study conducted by Google entitled “The New Multi-screen World “found more people are accessing online content using different devices of varying screen size. For example, people might start researching a product on their mobile device, but end up making the purchase on their laptop. In light of this, E-Commerce sites should make every effort to offer a shopping experience that is compatible and enjoyable across all devices no matter the brand, screen size, etc.. Most approach this issue by supplementing their main site with a mobile version. However, this approach will only ensure optimization for a smaller subset of devices, not to mention it introduces an additional site to maintain. Enter Responsive Web Design (RWD).

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Rather than optimize a site to cater only to mobile devices, RWD rearranges the site’s content to optimally fit any given screen size. This is done while preserving the site’s theme. By doing this you’re allowing content to be cleanly laid out, organized and easy to use while solidifying website and brand recognition on all devices.

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Furthermore expect website maintenance costs to be noticeably lower when running a RWD site in comparison to multiple versions of the same site (full site and mobile version) For example, Staples currently maintains a separate desktop and mobile site in addition to their mobile apps. Updates to the site, while probably automated in some way, are certainly handled separately. If Staples’s site was responsive, one update on its site would be applied to all types of devices and they possibly would not need to maintain a separate database for the mobile site. Amazon, justifies using two different versions of the site because the content they provide is based on the device used. However, RWD has this unique ability as well. If a real estate company was to utilize RWD they could have a “Search My Location” feature that only shows up if a site user is on their mobile device. Or maybe they don’t want to serve a mortgage calculator to mobile visitors. With RWD all of this is possible. Despite these advantages, there is still a shortage of ecommerce implementations of RWD. The cost and time required to redesign, at least partially, an ecommerce site is not insignificant. However, with devices ranging from a 3.5in screen phone screen to giant televisions with 4k resolution connecting to the web, wouldn’t it make sense to pay and prepare for the future now rather than play catch up later?

-Gavin Fung, Associate User Experience Analyst – Usability Sciences

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