In an industry where trends and buzz words are coined on an every-other-minute basis, it’s easy to get a rush of blood and jump headfirst into the latest solution du jour. We love the fact that innovation is the cornerstone of our industry, and are incredibly passionate about pushing the envelope for our clients. But not all solutions are a suitable fit for every business – so today we’re putting responsive and adaptive web design and SharePoint 2013 device channels under the microscope.
In previous blogs we have looked at the implications of mobile device usage from a number of angles, and this conversation fits under the same umbrella. We know that the way people are consuming information continues to shift, with mobile devices generating more web traffic than ever before. As user needs have evolved, so have the practices and theories for delivering a superior User Experience (UX) being used by IT and web development professionals.
First, let’s take a look at the basic principles of each philosophy.
Responsive web design is about rendering the same website for optimised viewing on different devices. In technical terms, responsive sites are built upon multiple fluid grid layouts which utilise ‘media queries’ to detect which device is being used before sizing the grids and images accordingly.
Adaptive web design is built upon multiple fixed width layouts, which tailor themselves to a deliver rich, layered experience on whichever device a person is using. Adaptive sites use a theory called ‘progressive enhancement’ to first deliver a level of basic content, which is built upon as the browser or device becomes more advanced.
SharePoint device channels is a is a technology which allows you to render a publishing site in multiple views on different devices. To achieve this level of flexibility, SharePoint lets your predefined channels render pages using separate master pages.
If you’re thinking they sound similar, you’d be right. The aim of all three practices is to present an optimised UX on various devices. However it’s the manner in which they do so which differs, with responsive sites heavily reliant on CSS3 media queries, while adaptive sites use layers of scripts to help a site adjust to different screens/devices and SharePoint 2013 device channels relying on device channel parameters and multiple master pages.
Case study – RACT custom mobile site
Let’s take a look at our recent client RACT, a major state-wide insurer in Australia who have just shy of 200k active members. As part of a major IT infrastructure upgrade we built RACT a new corporate intranet, public website and mobile platform. The vision for the mobile platform was that it be convenient, user-friendly and focus on the key information a customer would need while ‘on the go’ (for example branch contact details, available services and petrol price watch). The mobile site also needed to be fast.
Simply recreating the master website for users with responsive web design would not have achieved this goal, as it would have presented the user with too much information and required them to scroll and search. Utilising the mobile development features of SharePoint 2013, we created a custom mobile site which delivered the information members needed straight into their hands.
The strength of this solution is that it took more than just device and browser limitation into consideration, but also user needs and physical location as well. Recognising that members were unlikely to want full site while ‘on the go’ – SharePoint 2013 gave us the flexibility to design a solution to fit.
So, do we need a fully responsive site or not?
In our experience there is a time and a place for both, and the two practices can even be combined. For example, you could create a mobile view using device channels in SharePoint 2013, but then apply responsive web design to ensure that the mobile site scales correctly to all device sizes.
As with most IT projects, it always comes back to discovering who your users are, how they consume information and what you really want to achieve. If your mobile traffic is minimal, responsive web design might be a good solution, as spending time and money on a purpose built mobile site is not likely to deliver a significant ROI. Or, if your organisation utilises SharePoint site for real time collaboration, and regularly adds or amends content/sites/documents, responsive web design is the best way to ensure pages will adapt to your content.
However, if you are attracting or want to attract mobile device traffic, it’s worth sitting down to work out how, when, where and why people are using your site, and then building an optimised experience based on these real user interactions. Creating a tablet strategy is an extremely worthwhile exercise at this point to establish the business justification and objectives of creating a mobile site.
As a test, grab your smart phone or tablet and search for the first thing that springs to mind. Are you seeing a full website or a tailored mobile site? How is this effecting your experience? Remember this is what your users, be they customers or employees, will go through when they interact with your site. To discuss responsive or adaptive web design, or SharePoint 2013 device channels, in greater detail, jump over a start a Live Chat on our website.