Sara Wachter-Boettcher on the Biggest Mistake in Responsive Design

This week we asked Sara Wachter-Boettcher—one of the instructors at our Responsive Design Studio (Mountain View, October 15-16)—to discuss a huge responsive design screw-up:

sara-wachter-boettcher.jpgRosenfeld Media: What's one huge mistake organizations make when they embark on responsive design?

Sara Wachter-Boettcher: They think that it's all about front-end development. Slap on some media queries and fit things to a flexible grid and you're done, right?

But really, effective responsive design starts much earlier: at the strategy phase. As you design for devices of any size and shape, it becomes more important than ever to have a crystal-clear idea of what you're trying to communicate and what your users need. You can't design the look and feel and then figure out what you need to communicate later; there's no space for that on small screens.

Instead, you have to make every single design decision align with the purpose of your site and the information you need to communicate—because that's the only way you can be sure your point is going to get across as screen sizes shift and devices change.

To do this, you have to start with strategy, focus on content and messaging, and get everyone—designers, developers, writers, CMS specialists, everyone—on the same page early in the process. This is a challenge for many organizations that are used to working in silos or strict waterfall processes, but it's only when we get more collaborative early in the process that we can get everyone working toward a shared vision. This is, of course far preferable to building an experience that is viewable on a small screen but is disjointed, difficult to understand, or fails to meet business and user goals.

Rosenfeld Media: Thanks Sara!

See you in Mountain View next month at the Responsive Design Studio?


The answer is a little vague. Specific problems could include:

Do you have a software downloads page for PC computers? It would be useless for just about all devices.
Do you have a games page, but they are designed for wide screens only?
Do you have games page, but they require the Flash plugin? Most devices don't include Flash.
Do you have wallpaper, but none for mobile screens?
Do you have store locators, but they are not local? Nowadays, we have web software to detect the location of the device and display the local info quickly without a lot of screen navigation.
Do you have wide tables? Difficult to fit on screens.
Do you have pages with "Print This"? Useless for devices, since they are not connected to printers; needs to change to "Email This."

I hope this helps you to think about ways to update a site to take mobile users into account.

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