In today’s fast-paced marketing jungle, it’s crucial to think about how best to present your business to your customers. From billboard advertisements to application icons, how the user interprets and interacts with face-value information is of the utmost importance. Today, we are going to discuss one of the main ways that users interact with the market–websites. Because the term “website” is relatively broad, we are going to hone in on specifically how a website is displayed. In general, a website can be either adaptive or responsive, and while the crude content on the site rarely changes, the experience of the user is something that should not be taken lightly. In this article, we are going to dive into the mechanics of responsive website design and how you can tell a multiplatform infrastructure from a static one.
To start off, let’s first go into what exactly a “responsive” website entails. A responsive website is a website that adapts (i.e. responds) to the user according to the type of system or technology the user is employing to display the site. Depending on if you are using a laptop, tablet, or smartphone, the site will adapt to the display and show the content of the site in the best possible format. Despite the fact that this means a site will look different on different devices, the overall effect is actually to enhance consistency across platforms, ensuring that the user gets a similar experience on each display. For example, if someone were to try and display a website on a smartphone, the hassle of trying to just reach all the edges of the page can make that person want to leave the site and move on. With a responsive design, the format is altered to be optimal for the device and the user can easily scroll up and down to see all facets of the site.
In order to achieve this type of adaptability, website builders employ a Responsive Website Design (RWD). This allows builders to create their content once, with the content then automatically redesigning itself to fit the parameters of whatever device is displaying it. But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s take a quick detour into more foundational materials before we dive into how one might distinguish a responsive site from the rest.
Overall, there are three main types of website designs (at least when it comes to formatting): responsive design, adaptive design (also called dynamic serving), and separate mobile URLs. We have already covered what responsive design is, so there are only two left that are important to know. While responsive sites shift things around in order to best display content, adaptive sites actually display completely new HTML to the user. Essentially, if you are looking at the same “content” on both a computer and a phone, you would be looking at two completely different sites by HTML standards.
With that covered, we now get to separate mobile URL sites. These types of sites have completely different URLs depending on if you are displaying it on a standard computer or a smaller mobile device. Essentially, the process of creating this is that after you have bought a website domain from a registrar such as 101domain, you then would have to add an extension to the URL name in order to show “mobile” content for your smartphone or tablet.
These three techniques are the primary methods website builders use to make sure that users have an ideal site experience on any device. So, now that we have the foundational stuff out of the way, let’s move on to how you can tell if a site is responsive or not. If you haven’t made a career out of computer science or a similar field, distinguishing between them all can often be a challenge, but there are still some ways to coax out an answer.
Diving right in, the first way to tell if it is responsive is by looking at its bare HTML. Within that code, there are distinct differences between standard and adaptive sites. If you do not know how to check the HTML, follow these steps. Here we’re using WedMD.com as the example page:
- Open WebMD.com (or your page of choice) in Chrome, on either mobile or desktop.
- If on a desktop, you can press CTRL+U (Windows) or Option+⌘+U (Mac) to view the page’s source code. If you are a mobile user, you can go to the address bar and add view-source: before the root domain (e.g., view-source:www.webmd.com) and hit enter to open source code. This should allow you to see the source code.
- Search for the word “responsive,” which is on the page to call out responsive templates and stylesheets. Click on the clickable link. Below is a picture of what it should look like.
While you can figure out if a website is responsive by scouring through it’s HTML code, another way is through resizing your browser. Below are two pictures of the same website, except that the browser window on the left has been shrunk down. If you will notice, as the browser size became smaller, the page formatted itself to display important material while still maintaining the user’s ability to interact with the site. For example, while the browser was larger, the Youtube search bar was still at its full size. As the window got smaller, the page reformatted and decided to show only the magnifying glass. The user can still use the search bar, it’s just now that the browser is smaller, another click will be required to search. If you keep your eyes peeled, clues like these give away whether a site is responsive or not.
While there may be another technique here or there, those two ways are a couple of the easiest ways to distinguish between responsive, adaptive, and separate mobile URL sites. While each one has its own merits, it seems as though responsive sites give the user the best experience in terms of content and display. That being said, now that you have a basic understanding of design types and how each one functions, you have the ability to scope out a site and see for yourself how that specific site recognizes and adapts to the device you are currently using, which then allows you the opportunity to interact more efficiently with the content it is displaying.