When mobile browsing was first becoming a huge part of the internet browsing landscape, the generic approach was to split your web development pipeline into two separate websites – full desktop/laptop and mobile. Every time that someone visited your website, it would detect what kind of browser they were running and redirect them to the appropriate version of your website.
Granted, this worked moderately well for quite a while, but it also created quite a few problems. For example, how did you manage two separate websites simultaneously? You had to create two different support teams to manage problems with each individual type of site, and if you couldn’t afford to do that, support for both of the versions suffered. In addition, many mobile sites would suffer from sacrificing core features of the main site to make it usable on mobile.
Of course, at the time, these sorts of sacrifices were necessary. Phones were nowhere near as powerful as a desktop or laptop computer, and mobile sites quickly sidestepped this issue. As time went on though, smartphones became more than powerful enough to handle the full version of the website – but they were still designed for a larger screen. Enter responsively designed websites.
These websites take the two pipelines (mobile and desktop/laptop) and merge them into one. When the website detects that the resolution has been changed, the website responds by re-sizing all of its elements, creating a new website on the fly.
As can be imagined, there are quite a few advantages to this new approach to web and mobile app development. For starters, this automatically supports any different screen size or resolution. One of the biggest problems with old mobile sites was that phones that had non-standard resolutions would often have trouble displaying mobile sites properly, but now resolution has been made irrelevant. Indeed, even desktop users that want to place multiple websites at a smaller size across their screen benefit from this.
Another huge benefit is design unity. Int he old days, a mobile site and a “full” site would often look completely different in every possible way. Even color schemes would be wildly different, not to mention video support, text size and the like. With responsive design, we are simply re-sizing our existing design, meaning that everything remains at least somewhat similar.
Responsive design is rapidly becoming the most popular type of web design, and it is for good reason. With responsive design, web designers can finally create a single website that works on all devices, and looks well no matter where it is being viewed. This means design automatically improves for the end-user, the real goal of web design.