Responding to users — not just devices

By: Marketing Donut contributor

Date: 11 August 2014

Responding to users — not just devices{{}}The responsive web can be more than just a tech solution; it can also be about responding to users’ needs by serving the most relevant content, in the right place at the right time.

So, here’s the question: what are you reading this on right now? Or maybe the question should be what could you be reading this on right now, and why?

Taking a quick glance at my desk as I write this, there are three devices I use to consume content on the web — my desktop, tablet and phone. Actually, there are four devices if you include the printer — yup, some folks still like to print web pages and read them the old-fashioned way.

A multi-device world

For me, these devices represent a slightly different way of using the web — my desktop computer is the default for the full experience, the tablet is generally used for pure media consumption and I most often use my mobile to look something up (an address, phone number, train time) when I’m out and about.

This multi-device, multi-use situation challenges website owners and developers with choices as to how we present and deliver our web content. Do we:

  • Run with the increasing trend of true Responsive Web Design (RWD), using fluid layouts that adapt and resize the full site according to device screen sizes;
  • Target specific devices with a separate site, designed to only be shown when a users visits on particular hardware;
  • Take a hybrid approach, with a responsive framework that hides or shows levels of content depending on size;
  • Or ignore the whole thing and hope it goes away?

Obviously the last option’s not going to work — given that there are now more mobiles than people on earth. The other options need some careful consideration however, and this is where content strategy also comes into play.

Serving the right content

We recently worked with one of our long-term clients to take their existing website to “phase two” — a more engaging, interactive site with in-depth research papers and current key market data. They also wanted the site to work on tablets and mobiles.

The depth and complexity of some of the content immediately threw up an interesting question: does a user visiting the site on a phone need (or want) to access a research paper or sort through multi-column market data while on the move?

The hybrid model

We decided to test the theory using the “hybrid” responsive option — the same site, resizing for ease of use on a mobile, but with conditional content that hides or simplifies below a certain screen size. The result is a cleaner, more direct site at the smallest size, but still containing all the core information about our client (what they do, the benefits they deliver, how to get in touch) streamlined to suit the likely needs of the user.

Clear messaging also encourages them to visit on a tablet or desktop to access the full content. And, to check our reasoning, we’re tracking data and talking to users to make sure they’re getting what they need.

The app approach

For another client, we’re in discussion about a mobile-specific hotel room booking site in addition to their main website. In this case, specifically targeting mobiles will allow us to deliver an app-like experience to the customer, with the site performing very specific identified tasks — useful to the traveller on the go, who doesn’t need the complete history of the hotel and multiple sub-pages about events planning or conferencing.

As these examples show there isn’t yet a one-size-fits-all approach to responsive and mobile web design — the option you choose should be based on user analysis, content relevance, behaviour, functionality and many other factors.

Content is king

The most important thing to remember when choosing your path is that content is king. Never lose sight of why your users are visiting your site in the first place and what they want to find when they get there. Then you can make decisions about responsiveness — tech or otherwise — from an informed standpoint.

Let’s respond to user need, not just their devices.

© Dan Howard, digital director at Valiant Design.