Recently a final year student studying Interactive Design at Nottingham Trent University asked us some questions about Responsive Web Design. I thought it would be useful to publish our response.

How important is Responsive Web Design (RWD)? Do you think it is essential to have a responsive site?

Responsive design is not a simple binary proposition of "is it responsive or not". It is more a case of "how responsive is it".

In most cases a website should be useable on a small screen because many people use smartphones to access websites. Not all websites fall into that category - for example business web apps may see the vast majority of users on laptops or desktop-sized screens.

There are of course different ways to get a website to work well on a small screen, and responsive design is only one of those.

Which method do you think is the most effective: RWD or Mobile-Specific?

RWD restyles the exact same content of a page to better fit the kind of screen or device that content is being viewed on. Mobile-specific sites change the content, often by removing content and changing navigational structures, to better serve users with small and potentially slow mobile devices.

Mobile specific sites are also often optimised to be extremely lightweight for sluggish data connections.

The decision between RWD and mobile-optimisation comes down to what's best for the content and the users being served, particularly taking into account the users’ physical location.

How is designing for mobile devices affecting businesses and online advertising today?

The biggest effect is on online advertising. Mobile as a whole is a tricky market for advertisers - witness the plummet in Facebook's share price when investors realised that Facebook hadn't worked out their mobile advertising strategy. Ads are still so dependant on being specific sizes, stemming from the legacy of print ads, that RWD can be tricky prospect.

More and more businesses are seeing the need to make their sites responsive because the shift in usage patterns towards phone use, and RWD seems to be the best, most future-proof, way to do it.

Incidentally responsive design is not a particularly new thing. Consider these discussions on my blog from seven years ago.