January 18, 2013
By now we all know that responsive design is here to stay. The hero's of our industry continue to refine techniques, specifications and best practices, but the idea of responsive websites is now engrained in our DNA. If you've never heard of responsive design, here are the basics: 1. A site built with a fluid grid making it fully flexible. 2. Refinements at key intervals to reorient layout elements to enhance the readability, design and overall experience at different sizes. 3. Finally, and most important, a focus on quality content. What all this means is that a user is presented with the best possible layout for their device's screen. In the past we created separate mobile sites or apps to handle this, but responsive design allows for the creation of one site that serves all devices well. Thus, a user coming to the site on a smartphone like the iPhone will see your site optimized for his/her smaller screen while a user accessing the site from a desktop computer with a larger screen will see a slightly different layout of the content and design. Both users interact with the same content but their user experience is tailored to their device.
Responsive design serves any and all industries or public sectors well, but for the purpose of this article I'd like to focus on healthcare organizations, physicians offices, providers, insurance companies…etc. We've had the pleasure of partnering with a number of these clients and we have seen a several benefits from taking a responsive approach when crafting their websites.
First, responsive design focuses everyone on the content. People come to healthcare sites for the content. They have a need, a question, or are seeking something you offer. The process of creating a responsive website focuses you on the content priorities, the hierarchy of your messaging, and the elements you want to promote. Why does this matter to a healthcare organization? Because people are often confused by the language, amount of content or lack thereof. Presenting the user with a pleasant web experience is a breath of fresh air in a world filled with information that is often confusing. Have you ever tried to find information on your health insurance company's website? I bet that you'd rather have a colonoscopy. Now imagine what it would be like if they had really honed in on their message around what users really want and built a site around that - this is the focus responsive design requires.
Second, responsive website design ensures that you have refined and tested navigation so that it makes sense for all users on all devices. Once you've determined your content and created an information architecture that suites the content needs, you can create a navigation scheme to help users through the site. This flow is critical for usability in responsive sites because you must account for several factors: touch screens, limited mobility, number of clicks…etc.
Third, the craftsmanship required to design and build a responsive website creates the best overall user experience. As we mentioned before, healthcare matters to every person in this country and it often confuses. With the right content and craftsmanship, a responsive website can help your audience find the information they seek, build trust, and share it with others.
Finally, it's about access. User's want access to your site no matter what device they choose to pick up. Responsive design provides them with the best possible layout of your content for their device, makes the same content available, and creates a better user experience.
As I mentioned before, these points don't just ring true for a healthcare organization, they matter to everyone. Whether you are the church, lawyer, butcher, cheese maker, custom home builder, or retailer, responsive design is almost always the right approach.
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