Responsive when its done well is great, and anything not good is bad - but its important to remember its not easy - managing content, design and implementation are all tricky. Here are a few tips based on what we've learnt on recent projects.
Content is tricky.
Defining priorities, needs and what to leave out is vital:
We find a lot of clients need to really carefully re-think about which content is actually important to users (and not just what has seemed important to their boss). Depending on the organisation and competitive environment this may be quite a hard process. However once you're there - and can objectively assess user needs then everything becomes easier. Our approach has always been 'users first', however the additional need to serve small screens seems to have helped the process of prioritising content.
Deciding which content is optional.
It may be that all content exists at all screen sizes. However do 'similar pages' really need to be there for smaller screens? It can become rather subjective at this point.
We have a range of tools, techniques and approaches here that have helped get some objectivity into the discussion such as mobile first, personas, scenarios, profiles, guerrilla testing (nothing to do with animals) and even (shock horror) your current website stats. If you think your current content is bad, we've probably handled worse.
Design is tricky
Its about considering fingers, seduction, simplicity and focus - here are a couple of guiding principles:
If you thought navigation was hard last time (desktop)…then this time there's a lot more to consider. Navigation remains a critical step to get sorted for any project, and there are a lot of things to take into account for navigation to work well across different screen sizes. The responsive community have been trying to help out here by documenting some of the different approaches other websites have taken.
Some things that are easy to click with a mouse, are not so easy to click with fat fingers.
It is even more important - keep asking "How do we keep the hierarchy and relationships between content pieces when you have less space?"
Keeping it sexy
We've seen responsive 'designs' that are effectively just starting with some boxes sitting next to each other on big screens and then on small screens stacking them on top of each other. We don't think you have to sacrifice a great experience when you choose responsive. One of our approaches here is actually not designing mobile first, as we've seen this lead to an overall lack of creativity and compromised experience at one end or the other. The real question here is 'How can we make the mobile experience as good as the desktop experience?'. The answer may mean a very different approach - designing at each interface for an optimum experience is better than designing one end then bashing break points into the middle.
While design is not an easy task to sort and still have everything look great, we have people that love this stuff and also quite good at it - the key seems to be to place the user front and centre, remember where they may be and what they are seeking to do in order to get the best out of every iteration you adopt in responsive (desktop, tablet, mobile etc).
Implementation is tricky
OK, believe it or not I'm a developer….so here is the really important stuff:
Will my CMS be able to do it?
Most of the work with responsive has nothing to do with your CMS. If your CMS can separate out the presentation layer (go talk to your local developer) then you'll be fine. If not, it's not the end of the story but will probably cause some limitations. Two CMSs that we've found do this well are Silverstripe and SiteCore. Drupal is ok too.
What about older browsers?
Is my site going to be big and slow?
No, and it shouldn't be. Performance is something every site should think about and users are growing less and less tolerant of badly performing sites. Yes, responsive will bring some sacrifices here, however well thought out approaches should mitigate most of this. Think very carefully before including social media plugins as these add a lot of weight to a page (at the time of writing).
Can I retrofit my current site?
Yes, however this should only be considered if your content is well in order, your design is decent and your focus is firmly around optimising the user experience. That said, you will still need design time, but most of the job will be implementation.
You want to serve the image sized appropriately for the screen. The CMS's mentioned above can do this with ease, however this may prove a deal breaker with others.
Geez. Tres tricky. Here the jury is still out - there are some very clever minds working on this wee pearler right now. Not easy - but things happen fast in digital.
In our experience implementation is the tricky part, what you need here is some very talented front-end developers (which we just happen to have). —