Responsive design: Why nonprofits should build a website that works on all devices

Responsive design: Why nonprofits should build a website that works on all devices

It’s time to refocus on your website on how well it connects with your users in 2014.

Take a look at Google analytics to analyze how most people view your website. My guess is they’re arriving via a mixture of different devices, with a big increase over the past two years of traffic from phones and tablets. When you designed your website were you thinking mainly about computers? Your data will show that you need to update your thinking.

The reality is that websites must be optimized across devices, and that’s a big challenge: if you want to make your head spin, look at this list of different cell phone screens sizes alone.

If your organization has not yet embraced optimizing content across devices, you will not connect with the user in the way they want to connect to you. Navigation, reading, and interaction will not work on a phone or tablet if you have not designed your site for these devices. In order to do this well, you have to rethink content and simplify the structure of your website so it works on a phone, tablet, laptop, and desktop. You must think from a user point of view, and your website navigation and content needs to change accordingly. Your website needs to be flexible—literally.

Understanding the jargon is key

There are many terms in the industry for creating this type of flexible site: mobile marketing, mobile-friendly website, and responsive design—to name a few. To keep things simple, let’s focus on just responsive design.

When you build a website and the website “responds” so it is best displayed on whatever device the viewer is using, that is responsive design.

This is a different approach to web design than in the past, when you would design and code a website for a computer and then design and code another one for, say, a phone. Because of the explosion of devices on the market, designing separate sites for each one isn’t cost effective or manageable.

The Boston Globe changed there website using responsive design in 2011, which caused a sea change—but it’s not just businesses who see the value here. There are nonprofits leading the way in responsive design that have sites worth exploring, too.

It’s helpful to get the basics on using responsive design for better site display figured out, and you might want to learn more about when should you go to responsive design and spend some time getting convinced that this is not just a trend, but a brave new way. Once you’re there, here are some examples of award-winning responsive design websites that will inspire you.

For the more technical types, Chris Butler from Newfangled has some great writing on the subject. Chris spoke recently at the UCDS Design Summit and has posted his two-part presentation online. In the first part, he focuses on the high-level strategic considerations, and in the second he really gets into the nitty-gritty of programming and thinking about design.

It is no longer a question of if you will have a responsive website, but when. In communication our focus should always be on providing the best user experience, and having a responsive website ensures the best user experiences no matter the device.

Thinking in this way makes everything more simple and clear. In this message-saturated world, responsive design is a step in the right direction: powerful communication that always connects.