Better ROI Through Responsive and Adaptive Design

By Ben Dykes

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When it comes to targeting your mobile audience will you go for an adaptive or responsive solution?

The BBC has recently relaunched its news offering for mobile users, directing the majority of smartphone users to a dedicated mobile-optimised website. This is a smart move with so many of their visitors now arriving via portable devices:

“In an average week, 13.3m users worldwide use their mobile or tablet to visit the BBC News site and apps – around one-third of total users to BBC News Online.”

We have noticed the same trend in our own website visits with an increase of 64% from mobile visits year on year – with this in mind, we’re in the process of a responsive redesign which will go live in 2013.

It’s worth noting that the BBC news mobile website is not responsive, rather an adaptive design which enhances the mobile experience depending on the capabilities of the user’s device. The BBC team chose this route of progressive enhancement in response to the vast range of browsers used to browse the site:

“We have ~80 significant browsers / operating system combinations regularly using our application across the globe and a long tail of hundreds more… So this is the conundrum of our project from a technical perspective. How do we continue to support the vast number of older and less capable devices while delivering to our brief of creating a world class news experience tailored to smart phones and larger resolutions?”

The BBC built a simplified website that would work for the lowest common denominator (IE6), and then add layers of improvement depending on the device used. By identifying the browser, it’s level of feature support and connection speed, the BBC then service enhancements to the UI complexity based on the detected capabilities.

Adaptive design techniques are often used in conjunction with Responsive Web Design. Whereas Responsive websites adjust layout based on viewport size, applying the progressive enhancement ethos of adaptive design brings an extra layer of optimisation based on device capability. Those who can’t benefit from the extra enhancement are still delivered a good baseline experience for their device. The video below shows how the responsive design of the Infrastructure Journal Online website works to deliver optimised navigation and layout depending on the user’s screen size.

How can a responsively designed website provide better ROI?

Responsive websites are designed to be device agnostic and can save on development costs (as this is one build as opposed to building multiple Apps for devices) and can communicate a cohesive design no matter what device they are accessed from, therefore providing a better experience for users and more value to subscribers.

However, projects such as this should be judged on a case by case basis; truly understanding all aspects of a business and their targeted audience could mean you oversee an alternative – and potentially more appropriate – solution. Although demand for app development as a mobile solution has been extremely popular, it is an example of a technology which may not be appropriate in all cases. Responsive web design allows organisations to cover a greater user base by using technology most modern devices understand, although web technologies cannot utilise all of the hardware on some smartphones and tablets like a native app. Whether web or native is appropriate for you will depend on your businesses audience and goals.

Businesses with an online presence should be aware of competitors who are beginning to offer a better web-based mobile experience using Responsive Web Design. Where a business relies heavily on website visitors as a source of revenue (either through selling services and products, data collection or advertising to them) an un-optimised experience risks users jumping ship for better mobile options with competitors.

Examples of large scale responsive design websites

  1. The Boston Globe website was one of the first large-scale responsive websites.
  2. Recently, the government have relaunched GOV.UK – a replacement for numerous outdated central government websites.
  3. Microsoft recently relaunched with a responsive website, reflecting the new Windows 8 visual language.
  4. The Guardian are experimenting with a beta responsive version of their website.
  5. Infrastructure Journal Online – staying ahead of the competition and adding value to a small set of subscribers who pay for high value data.

In conclusion we are seeing more and more big players relaunch their websites responsively, either as a whole or in parts as a staggered rebuild. To do so is to meet the needs of your mobile users, increase your ability to generate revenue from those users and set yourself ahead of the competition.

If you would like to learn more about the Infrastructure Online project or how Makemedia can help you with you mobile strategy or large scale website build please do get in touch by calling 0845 017 8777 or by emailing

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