One-Size-Fits-All Websites

When Going Responsive, Getting the Right Web Designer Makes All The Difference

Joe Dysart / March 2017

While responsive websites—or sites that are programmed to fit any screen size—are a must-have, construction businesses need to be extremely careful when selecting a Web designer to put together such a Web presence.
    
The reason: too many responsive Web designers these days operate with the mindset that the only screen that matters is a smartphone—they like to pretend other screen sizes don’t exist.
    
Essentially, these designers—and there are a lot of them—have become so focused on ensuring Web content looks great on a smartphone, they’ve abandoned all responsibility for ensuring that same content also looks good on laptops and desktops.
    
For these designers, today’s Web design is not “mobile first,” as the catchphrase goes.
    
Their catchphrase is Web design is “mobile only.”
    
This is why the Web is currently littered with websites sporting images that look bloated on desktop computers. It’s also why desktop users increasingly find themselves scrolling through acres and acres of blank whitespace on many Web pages. And it’s also why some desktop users regularly come across sentences that are 24 inches long on a website if they’re using a desktop screen that’s 24 inches.
    
The takeaway: Construction businesses need to avoid these designers like the plague, and be sure they’re contracting with someone who realizes that while smartphones are currently today’s Big Thing, there are plenty of people who still do most of their Web surfing on a desktop or laptop.

It Must Be Responsive
Of course, even though there are a great deal of irresponsible Web designers out there, it still remains imperative that your website is responsive, and that it looks good on any screen size—be it a desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone.
    
Says Jay Correia, CEO of Dreamco Design (http://www.dreamcodesign.com), a Web design firm: “There is a benefit from the standpoint of appearing professional regardless of the device the site is being viewed from which in turn can affect the use the website gets in general.
    
“Often this can equate to new sales opportunities, better customer service and a handful of other benefits dependent on the company and how it uses its website.”
    
Adds A.W. Ahern, CEO of Ahern Associates, a business consultant: “Responsive sites are more flexible and as such are far more future proofed than static site designs. New browsing devices and programs can make a traditional design all but unusable and guarantee that anyone visiting the site on one of them will not convert into a lead.”
    
Plus, by sticking with one responsive website for all screen sizes, your business can generally save on Web design costs in the long run—as compared to attempting to maintain one website for desktops and laptops, a second for tablets and a third for smartphones.
    
“Updates are also easier to apply to versions for all screen resolutions, since there is no need to work on multiple website versions,” says Michael Dobkowski, president of Glacial Multimedia, a Web design firm.
    
Moreover, a single website generally translates into higher rankings on the search engines, given that all the traffic to your website goes to one location on the Web.
    
Split up your Web presence on three separate sites websites—traditional, tablet and mobile—and search engines like Google will rank each site separately. The result: these search engines will end up portraying the total Web traffic to your business as one third of what it truly is.
    
Yet another reason to ensure your website is responsive: some of the biggest guns in the tech industry—including Google—are “all in” when it comes to responsive Web design.
    
“Many website marketing firms had provided a minimalist mobile website in addition to a site designed to be viewed on a desktop,” prior to the rise of responsive design, says Dan Goldstein, president, Page 1 Solutions (http://www.page1solutions.com), a Web design firm. “While Google had originally stated that this was a good option, more recently Google has made clear that responsive is better.”

What to Tell the Designer
When contracting a Web designer to remake your website into a responsive one, make sure the designer knows in no uncertain terms that you’re not interested in a site that looks great on a smartphone—but which renders like awkward-to-navigate monstrosity on a laptop or desktop.
    
Specifically, you’ll want to tell your designer you don’t want to see poster-size headlines when the site is viewed on a desktop. And you’ll want to tell your designer under no circumstance do you want to force your customers to scroll through wide swaths of blank space simply to view your site’s key components.
    
Ditto for the basic text on your website. Unless you instruct your responsive Web designer otherwise, you could end up with text on your new responsive website that runs the full length of a 24-inch screen.
    
For the mobile user, that approach is convenient, given that a responsive website reconfigures text margins to fit a palm-size screen. But for the desktop user, trying to read a sentence 24 inches long is not nearly as much fun—unless you’re a giraffe.
    
Says Russel Uresti, a Web developer with Schoology (http://www.schoology.com), who is an avid advocate of responsive design: “Often, so much emphasis is made about mobile devices and making the site look good on a phone or tablet that designers will overlook extremely large monitors and fail to design for them.”
    
Incredibly, the scores of designers championing responsive Web design are either unaware of the unacceptable usability they’re creating for desktop and laptop users—or they’re silently willing to sacrifice desktop and laptop usability all in the name of the iPhone and related trendables.
    
“It kind of becomes a fanatical point of view that they keep about their work,” says Sean B. Jamshidi, owner, DesignFacet (http://www.designfacet.com), a Web design firm, describing the head-in-sand approach of many responsive Web designers. “They design more for themselves than for the client.”

Bad Examples
Media Queries (http://mediaqueri.es), for example, an ever-expanding gallery of the best and brightest that responsive Web design has to offer advanced by the responsive Web design community, in fact showcases dozens of examples company Web presences that when viewed on desktops, are simply bad.
    
The Republic of Quality (http://www.republicofquality.com/), for example, a Web design and marketing firm whose site is featured prominently on Media Queries as a shining example of responsive Web design done right, is actually emblematic of everything that is wrong with the design approach.
    
Visit the home page for the company, and you’ll find bloated text and graphics that look better suited for a children’s book than for a company trying to market to other businesses.
    
Ditto for the company’s “Our Workshops” page. Here, you’ll find text that nearly runs the full length of a 24-inch desktop screen. Plus, you’ll be treated to one-sentence descriptions that take four times longer to read on a desktop than they normally should because the text and line spacing is ludicrously gigantic.
    
Meanwhile, you’ll find similar, unnecessarily overblown text and graphics at another website showcased by Media Queries as the ideal of responsive Web design: the site for The Next Web (http://thenextweb.com). Ironically enough, The Next Web is a magazine, conference and education company whose mission is to stay on the “bleeding edge” of where the Web is headed.
    
Here, using a desktop PC, you’ll find yourself scrolling through scores of encephalitic headlines and images on a home page that takes much longer to read through than necessary. And you’ll find a jobs board that would be much easier to work with on a desktop if it was one third or even one fourth its size.
    
Other designs heralded by MediaQueries that leave many desktop users scratching their heads: Build (http://www.buildwindows.com/), a site for a Microsoft-sponsored trade show; Paid to Exist (http://paidtoexist.com), a personal growth site; and Modo Design Group (http://mododesigngroup.com/), a Web design firm.
    
When challenged by desktop and laptop users regarding usability, champions of responsive Web design often insist that with the frenzied proliferation of smartphones and tablets, mobile is the de facto standard, and that the days of desktops and laptops are numbered.
    
Maybe so. But a few years back, another “all-that-matters-is-mobile” champion also bet big on that philosophy and released Windows 8, an operating system that initially heavily favored mobile users and essentially orphaned desktop and laptop users.
    
The consequences: Windows 8 was roundly rejected by Windows users, and the CEO who championed “mobile-above-all,” Steve Ballmer, no longer has a job there.
    
Put another way: Sure, there are plenty of people on smartphones tagging the ’net for a minute or so while waiting in line at Starbucks.
    
But any serious and substantial use of the Web will continue to be overwhelmingly done on desktops and laptops.
    
Bottom line: The next time a Web designer shows up at your business promising to build you a “state-of-the-art, responsive website” that will deliver “a consistent and optimized user experience across the wide variety of devices and platforms that Web surfers use,” respond with two words: Show me.

Joe Dysart is an Internet speaker and business consultant based in Manhattan. Voice: (646) 233-4089. Email: joe@joedysart.com. Web: www.joedysart.com.