Five Lessons Learned from Building Responsive Websites

We’ve been building websites for a long time. During that time as a web developer, I’ve learned a TON about responsive web development. Here’s what I’d like to share with you about developing responsive websites for some of Iowa’s coolest companies:

1. It’s difficult.

In what other medium of communication or design do you have to worry about how your creation looks on an infinite number of screen sizes in a handful of different browser versions in every part of the world?

That’s the overwhelming obstacle we face as an agency offering responsive web design. With every project, we’re tasked with creating a consistent experience for all users, regardless of device or Internet browser (notice I didn’t say creating the exact same website for all users).

Part of responsive and modern website design is using brand-spankin’ new technologies like HTML5 and CSS3 while still supporting older browsers. That, in itself, is a challenge (and there are awesome tools out there like Modernizr which help with that).

Finally, one of the biggest difficulties: It’s still changing. Every day.

The responsive web development community still isn’t sure how to do responsive images. And Flexbox, which could be one of the greatest solutions for responsive layouts, has already changed several times in the past couple years.

It’s a tough game to keep up with, but that’s OK, because…

2. Clients love it

Our experience during the last year has been that our clients happy with our responsive designs.

It’s always a great feeling to find out the money and time you spent on a new website for your business isn’t already part of the Stone Age when it’s launched.

Local businesses and restaurants have a reason to rejoice, too – their brand-new responsive websites are more helpful to customers on the go who are looking for their shop or for a place to grab lunch. We’re sure to use the HTML5 phone number anchor tag to make it as easy as possible to turn potential customers into actual customers.

3. CSS precompiling is a lifesaver

As a front-end developer, I can’t tell you how much I’m in love with CSS precompilers. Seriously.

Whether it’s using LESS with the Twitter Bootstrap framework or delving into SASS (SCSS) when building Happy Medium’s bootstrap, CSS precompilers really change the way websites are developed.

Imagine if you were able to define just once the colors, sizes, or numbers you plan to use throughout your site and then easily reuse those values across your entire stylesheet. That’s just part of what makes this method so great.

It’s also incredibly helpful to use mixins or libraries like Compass to run “functions” in your stylesheet which add vendor prefixes or place in repetitive code you get tired of writing.

If you’re interested, jump on the precompiler bandwagon by visiting the SASS or LESS websites. Chris Coyier of CSS Tricks actually posted a really cool article about SASS style guides this morning.

4. Beware of the CMS

It’s been great seeing responsive designs flourish in our office as we turn them into living, breathing websites. But once you hand a site off to a client with a content management system (CMS), it’s a whole new ball game.

Remember that when you give a client the ability to add or remove content, your design becomes vulnerable and could easily break. Before responsive design came into the picture, this usually meant the client could accidentally introduce a font face you hadn’t been using in new ball of the site or add an image which looked squished or out of place.

Today, a client could add a new image block into a section of your site (which is a normal, expected thing for a client to do) and it could completely break the site when it’s viewed on a smaller screen or new ball off your layout while on a larger one.

There’s much more that needs to be explained to a client when handing off a site and training them on using your CMS. It’s important to remember that, in general, limiting the freedom the client has in the CMS will mean a more consistent and unbroken website in the end.

All of this stuff makes responsive design sound like a ton of work, but I promise you…

5. It’s worth it

Every website that Happy Medium has launched has been a responsive design.

Sure, we’ve only been making sites for 10 months, but not many web development companies can say they’ve jumped ship from their traditional static design to meet the growing needs of a multi-device world.

While we’ve made a lot of mistakes and learned a lot of lessons, I can say the team doesn’t have a single regret about the decision to offer responsive website design and development as part of our core services.

The experience we’ve had (and the growth we plan to have in the future) helps us deliver the best possible product for our clients.

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