In RWD We Trust – Is this trust misplaced?

By / Nov 6, 2013 / Trends

Everybody’s talking about responsive web design (RWD). The buzz surrounding this designing approach is humongous and just refuses to go down. Every business irrespective of its size, who wants to get a website developed, wants its site to be responsively designed. Businesses that already have an operational website are getting it redesigned to make it responsive. It’s almost like RWD has emerged as the savior that’s going to rid websites from the evils of increasing bounce rate, low customer connect, decreasing revenue generation and rapidly declining brand awareness.

Most people think RWD equals website success and improved brand awareness for their business. But things are not as simple and straightforward as them seem. Implicit trust in RWD can often be misplaced. This statement might come as a surprise to you, but it’s the truth. RWD is really not the be all and end all of a successful online identity. It might work for some and might not deliver on the expectations of others.

So the question to ask here is, why is the fanboyish trust in RWD misplaced? Let’s take a closer look.

In RWD We Trust – Is this trust misplaced? Image by Claudiu Cioba

RWD at its most basic

For purposes of this article, let’s just explain RWD at its most basic level. Responsive web design ensures your website renders effectively on all devices, irrespective of their size and screen resolutions. You don’t have to create different web designs for different devices. Its fluidity ensures it can fit into any screen size and display content that has been earmarked for that size.

Now, let’s find out why RWD doesn’t always work.

RWD is not the answer if your audience is not a mobile web enthusiast

Let’s take an example of a website catering to the demands of senior citizens, say a website selling assistive devices. In this case, a large section of the website’s target audience isn’t going to access this website through their mobile devices. So, it doesn’t make a great deal of sense to go in for RWD. However, going for RWD might not take anything away from your site. But, in this particular case, a responsive website might not make a great deal of sense. So, why go for it. RWD doesn’t come cheap as it requires expertise in specific web design technologies like CSS3, media queries and HTML5. As a business, if you want your RWD investment to offer the desired returns, you need to make sure that a large percentage of website users will make use of the mobile web to access your site. If they don’t, RWD can become a wasted expense.

RWD is not a good idea if content appearing on smaller devices doesn’t add any value

Just the fact that your website renders effectively on mobile devices doesn’t lead to improved brand awareness, which in turn translates into improved traffic and better conversions for your site. If the content offers no real value to the user, your site isn’t going to find traction on mobile devices. The needs of mobile users are different from that of desktop users. Contextual content is the key to leveraging the immense potential of RWD. But, if the website content displayed on mobile devices doesn’t satisfy the contextual requirements of the target users, why have RWD in the first place. In this case, it really doesn’t deliver a lot of value in any way or form.

These two pointers illustrate the fact that RWD is not really the solution for all your problems, but in these two particular cases the fault lies on the website owner more than anybody else, for failing to realize the potential of RWD.

Now, let’s look at the misplaced trust angle purely from RWD’s inability to stand up to scrutiny.

RWD websites typically do not have fast loading times

There is this false belief that because a website has been responsively designed, and it displays far less content on mobile devices that the site will load faster on mobile devices. This is a wrong assumption to make as the download size of the website doesn’t dramatically reduce just because it is accessed through a mobile device.

We all know the notorious impatience of traditional internet users, and mobile web users are a step ahead when it comes to impatience. So here’s the uncomfortable truth. RWD and better web performance don’t walk hand-in-hand. A slow loading responsively designed website won’t be given the benefit of the doubt by mobile users. In fact it will invite criticism and create a negative reputation for your brand.

In RWD We Trust – Is this trust misplaced? Image by Hector Simpson


Complexity of RWD calls for Good Implementation

The performance issue that we have talked about, can be handled with solid implementation, but the inherent complexity of RWD (remember you are designing it for multiple viewing experiences) make this implementation a challenging exercise. Even the most astute and experienced designers can falter during the process of implementation. As can be imagined, this makes RWD a double edged sword. It’s not a simple and straightforward route towards online glory.

It’s expensive

Face the fact that a technology like RWD doesn’t come cheap. The sheer complexity of the design process means it is expensive. As a business, you have to be really very sure, you want RWD. If you do decide to go ahead with it, you need to also make sure you get a talented designer to work on your project. Just about every web designer professes to be an expert in RWD, but very few designers can actually create and implement a website built using this design technology. Is this a risk worth taking? You decide.

Trust in God, but in RWD? I am not sure whether it’s for everybody. I am sure its adoption will continue to increase, but whether a business will be able to really up its profits with the adoption of RWD is really debatable. It does have its shortcomings and these have the potential to put the spanner in its efficiency and long term sustainability.

About the Author

John Siebert is the President and CEO of TranquilBlue - A NYC Web Design Company that focuses on all kind of website design, mobile app development and search engine marketing.

  • Russ

    Struggling to believe that WDL published this drivel. I don’t even know where to start…

    • Brad F

      I feel sorry for everyone who read this, including myself.

  • Scott Jordan

    It’s still evolving.
    It’s better than nothing

    Most good web developers now have the tools to design and build RWD from the outset.

    Expensive, only if you use large rip off design agencies.

  • Derek

    I’m not sure this article could be any more flawed. I think I just want to break this down point by point to show where I take issue with this. Most of these so-called issues can be solved with a mobile first design approach or are simply just wrong.

    -RWD is not the answer if your audience is not a mobile web enthusiast-
    Using those terms make it sound like mobile web is something like HAM radio. Like browsing the web on a phone is someone’s hobby. Roughly 10% of US consumers only point of internet access is the mobile phone and there are entire regions of nations around the world where this is also the case. If the majority of your users access your site on a desktop, by all means make a super nice desktop site but why alienate another segment of the population over something that is, in actuality, relatively simple to do. You talk about CSS3, media queries, and HTML5 like they’re moon language that only the most sophisticated designs use.

    -RWD is not a good idea if content appearing on smaller devices doesn’t add any value-
    If you take a mobile first design approach, your research uncovers the most important content for your mobile users. If your mobile users want it, there’s a high likelihood that your desktop users will want it also, which can be backed up by research. You should be doing research anyway to make sure that all of the content on your site adds value. This isn’t a mobile design only problem. Moreover, on its own, a quality experience IS added value. Having to zoom and search around to get to relevant content on a desktop site on mobile can frustrate users and make them leave your site behind.

    -RWD websites typically do not have fast loading times-
    Accessing a desktop site though a phone would not have any faster of a loading time either. If it will take the same time to load either way, why not craft a better user experience by using a responsive design so as to not alienate your mobile users. Moreover, with proper implementation, a mobile site will load faster. Again, if you’re considering the needs for mobile from the beginning, proper implementation is facilitated.

    -It’s Expensive-
    Is it? Maybe from your firm. If it’s not seen as an extra or an add on but part of standard development, it’s not expensive. Again, using responsive code instead of static code isn’t some ultra complicated technique and if you start using it from the beginning it doesn’t add very much time to the process. Moreover, with the growing penetration of smart phones and tablets into the market, perhaps responsive web design should be considered more of an investment as technology changes the landscape of how people consume the web.

    We make websites for people to use. Without users, websites are worthless. Therefore, access to our websites and our content is the most important thing. When you’re dealing with something that is as simple to implement as responsive design, there’s no reason to alienate a segment of the population of potential website users. It isn’t complicated, it shouldn’t be expensive, it does provide value, and load times are irrelevant.

    • http://[email protected] Todd

      Pretty much exactly what I was thinking but was too lazy to say.

  • Rob

    A gif, summing up my general feelings about the thinking presented in this entire article…

  • Lisa

    In reply to the content point, people need to stop thinking that people use mobiles to access websites only when they’re on the move. We need to start finding a solution to the filesize issue and not just trying to find reasons to avoid it.

  • Batfan

    This is ridiculous

  • Halfcat

    Looking at the website of the author just told me everything I need to know about his credibility.

    • Drew

      I did the same thing and came to the same conclusion.

    • Gina

      Just reading his bio excerpt told me that. WDL should remove this nonsense article.

  • Jules Webb

    If your audience isn’t accessing your site with a mobile device then this might be good info, but the odds of that now and in the future are pretty much nil to none.

    Expensive? Well that’s relevant…
    Expensive compared to not building a responsive or mobile specific site, yes—But only if you don’t consider the future revenue lost by not being mobile friendly.

    Expensive compared to building a site for desktop and one for mobile, I think not.

    Is RWD perfect, I think we can all agree that it’s not, but for many sites it’s an appropriate choice. Pretty much everything you said here could be applied to building any website.

    “___ is not a good idea if content appearing on devices doesn’t add any value”

    Hey if they aren’t on the internet then no point in adding a website…
    I’m experiencing deja vu like it’s 1990!

    Just can’t go there with you on this one John.


  • Travis

    John, I disagree with the other commenters: this is a great article.

    I think it’s just hard to get designers to care about things like ROI, but it’s breath of fresh air to read some cold hard truth about RWD.

    Keep up the great work!

  • Andy

    That’s embarrassing for “New York’s Premier Web Design Agency”.

  • gordonez5

    Hmn.. interesting read, but I’m afraid I don’t agree with the premise of this article.

    Firstly, John Siebert seems to be under the misapprehension that RWD is only for mobile devices. I think of RWD more as a modern approach to development for ALL devices – both now and in the future.

    Secondly, just because a site’s core audience is a group of senior citizens, that doesn’t necessarily mean that a) the silver surfers don’t have ipads and phones, or b) that these sites shouldn’t cater for all potential visitors.

    I have some sympathy for the cost argument.. but does RWD really cost that much more to develop? In my experience – especially when starting a site from scratch – it is not a huge additional challenge to integrate a responsive/adaptive layout. And re-factoring an existing site needn’t be a massive chore either if done in increments.

    All that said, it’s refreshing to hear counter-arguments to the endless ‘You must use RWD’ articles.


  • Kevinpeterson

    Thanks For Sharing this useful information!!!

  • Aamir Shahzad

    One sided written…

  • http://[email protected] Todd

    Wow. This is a pretty poor article. Also, if you look at the authors website, its clear he is either extremely ironic or doesnt know the first thing about web design. It is written purely with opinion and no facts whatsoever.

  • Ivanov Karmazov


    My opinion is that mobile is the wave of the future. I mean… do we really see ourselves going back to desktops anymore? Let’s face it, desktops are dying. In fact, I have seen many companies start to work on mobile devices like tablets for their business. Which came as a shock at first but now It seems all so reasonable.

    Anyway, to conclude. I think RWD is the future. With broadband connections getting faster and faster, and everyone having to adhere to having them, it’s only a matter of time before RWD is standard design. Especially with all the crazy new technology announced every year.

    If anything, RWD is going to get MORE complex as the years go by and the standard design of the web will be changed forever.

    Just one guy’s opinion. :)

  • Ben Plum

    Wow, everyone should take a look at the author’s company’s site before taking any of this seriously. What a joke.

  • Brad F

    After reading this, I had to look up the author. I was not disappointed, anyone who uses the term “Guru” better back it up with amazing work. Unfortunately this isn’t the case, as is reflected on his company website. No type of mobile support, long loading times due to oversized images, a purchased theme from themeforest for their site. There’s nothing wrong with any of this, as long as you don’t express your opinion as someone with experience. Because all this spells, is a lack of it.

    Don’t write about something you know very little to nothing about, there’s enough doubt spread on the internet, you’re only making it worse.

  • Phillip

    Lets be honest, the point of view in this article is accurate from a broad perspective. If your target market doesn’t have mobiles, content doest scale well, slower download and it’s expensive then RWD isn’t for you.

    Having said that the points were very flawed. A high percentage (over 50) of people over the age of 50 used the internet for the first time on a mobile device. So any site targeting senior citizens should keep that in mind. On top of that with the number of different sized screens 30″ down to 3.3″ it is incredibly important to make sure your site scales well.

    The next thought is what content is needed on a small screen? Obviously you don’t want everything available so remove the unimportant information. Simple.

    As for slow download speeds with the internet speeds increasing this isn’t really a concern any more. Perhaps 10 years ago. Keeping that in mind anytime i develop a site I build as much out of css and not images as i can. This makes all my sites smaller and faster. Also with flat ui becoming more popular it is much easier to make this backwards compatible.

    As for cost, I build it at the same price as a regular site. I use a framework that is responsive so I might as well use it.

    RWD isn’t for everyone yet (this author perhaps) but it will be soon. Perhaps this author is unaware of the screens sizes and technology available/coming out. HIs home page is useless in safari on a 27″ screen.

  • (sic)

    I must disagree with a lot point here. We use RWD as a future proof asset. And I don’t think CSS3/HTML5 is expensive at all. No one’s writing framework from scratch, i guess 80% designers take Bootstrap or Foundation or similar tools to begin with which saves a lot of time…

    No time to explain each point but I guess this article is creatively misleading!!

  • Gavin McFarland

    I think this article is a great demonstration of how differently people think of responsive web design. The author raises some interesting points but unfortunately presents his conversation as advice when clearly it’s just his opinion. Unfortunately this article has received a lot of comments about the authors ability to talk about this topic, rather than comment on the principles behind responsive web design.

  • Stefan Scholz

    We believe RWD can improve Usability especially for the mentioned senior citizens, because the designer can for example use font sizes adapted to the screen size AND the prospective user group. RWD is not only about mobile. Also lots of senior citizens will use tablets because they are much easier to use and cheaper than a desktop PC. So if you design a Website for people aged 60 and above RWD could be very helpful indeed. RWD is not about “improved brand awareness” it’s about usability. I have the strong feeling, the author is not an usability enthusiast. Sure there are some projects where RWD is not neccessary or does not work. For example if the site is far too complex for a small screen or in cases where only a specialized app can do the job. Those cases are rare though from my experience.

  • (sic)

    Who are you really??!!

  • Kreativ Font

    I think responsive web design is a must for content websites and web apps. Mobile is the future and we must prepare for it as fast as we can … I agree that RWD is not for every type of website, but for those native mobile apps can be built. Either way everyone should prepare for mobile …

  • Barney

    RWD is ok, but I don’t like viewing sites that change’s its layout on mobile. It makes navigation harder when you’re used to how it looks on a computer/laptop…especially a large site. But that’s me, others may be fine with it.

    Most people here are butt-hurt because RWD is an up-sell and they don’t want anyone to slow their money train down. I understand that, but don’t resort to personal attacks. Because seriously, most of your work isn’t as hot as you think. So I guess maybe we should judge your credibility for simply giving an opinion on the internet as well, correct? Stop being rude and listen objectively. You might learn something.