At it’s core, Responsive means a web-site has the ability to respond, and therefore operate effectively, on a range of different platforms.
The web is no longer a single-resolution desktop. It’s many resolutions and orientations. It will be pervasive across hundreds of disparate platforms.
In the real-world this means that a web-site works equally as well on a mobile/touch device as it works on a desktop/laptop device. Driven largely by the growth in use of mobile devices, the Responsive Movement has been around for less than 3 years so it’s not surprising that not every website is responsive. This, however, is not just an early adopter trend, Starbucks, Microsoft and a large number of the market-leaders are already there (note: oddly, Apple is not). Not everyone agrees that responsive is the future and some do see it as a ploy by agencies to sell swamp land.
The premise is that content should conform to the form factor of the device without being concerned about the exact type of device in stark contrast to the idea of mobile-only Websites or device-specific apps. It is not only difficult to develop customised sites or applications for each of these individual devices, it is unsustainable. There are currently 7 different mobile platforms out on the market that is only expected to grow. Responsive design aims to solve this problem by creating a design that can visually adapt one set of content to any device on which it might render. Critically, this is not a single layout, but a framework managing how the layout changes as the content is displayed on any size screen.
There are certainly technical challenges in implementing responsive design. For example, writing page styles so that they break down well or serving optimized images for certain screen resolutions becomes trickier. Getting responsive design delivered needs developers and designers working in harmony, ideally, or at the very least on the same page.
The final piece of the jigsaw is the slaying of the HiPPO (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion). Just because the Head of HR doesn’t use a smartphone or the senior IT techy doesn’t believe that mobile is here to stay are all really bad, inward-looking, reasons to not go responsive. The numbers should speak for themselves (15-30% of visits to web-sites come from mobile and touch devices).
This slaying may be painful and it’s important during the crucification that expectations are managed. Responsive is not designed to be perfect on every display option, it’s a best fit across a range of platforms and optimised to the popular ones (IOS and Android, mainly).