Responsive Web Design - What Does the Future Hold?

Web ApplicationsWeb Applications
Web Applications | 25.08.15
Written by Gary Boon

Although the term was only coined in 2010 by a web designer named Ethan Marcotte, the last five years have seen responsive design become a staple of the internet. So much so that today, in 2015, any modern web designer not stuck in the fixed-width past wouldn’t think twice about implementing anything else.

Responsive Web Design – What Does The Future Hold?

Although the term was only coined in 2010 by a web designer named Ethan Marcotte, the last five years have seen responsive design become a staple of the internet. So much so that today, in 2015, any modern web designer not stuck in the fixed-width past wouldn’t think twice about implementing anything else.

The actual development of responsive websites has caused a clash of opinion with some web designers. There are sites out there that say they’re fully responsive, but in reality only are on the surface, and then there are those sites that claim to responsive but just aren’t.

There’s one thing all web designers have to agree on though, even those resistant to switching from their fixed-width safe houses; and that’s that the future of the internet is centred on responsive web design, and here’s why…

Responsive Design Evolved Because Internet Browsing Evolved

Take a trip back to 10 years in the past and browsing the internet on anything other than your laptop or PC would barely cross your mind. Sure, IBM’s Simon ‘Smartphone’ may have hit the market in 1994, but the best that could do was send emails, not surf the web.

Fast forward to 2007 with the launch of the Apple iPhone and other ‘modern’ smartphones and suddenly a whole new era of internet browsing arrived. No longer did people have to rely on their laptop or desktop to access the internet; they had it at their fingertips and in their pockets, at all times, wherever they were.

A New Approach To Website Design


Now web designers couldn’t just design a website primed for desktop screen sizes – as all manner of devices and screen sizes were now being used to explore the web. The task for designers now was to create a website that looked beautiful no matter what device it was being viewed on. It was from this point that responsive web design became a necessity for effectively browsing the internet.

There are alternatives, such as developing separate sites primed for each device, but in reality, this could mean creating thousands of website variations for just a single site. Yeah, you guessed it, not exactly the most practical or cost-effective option out there. Responsive web design makes economic sense, but with technology rapidly progressing, what does the future hold?

Keeping Up With Technology

With 2014 seeing mobile and tablet usage surpassing that of desktop usage, responsive web design has more than earned it stripes. Internet browsers want the same user experience on a website, whether they access it from a tablet, smartphone, PC, TVs, or any other internet-primed device; and responsive design is the only viable solution to accommodate browser demands.

However, we’re seeing another evolution in internet primed technology take place. If you’ve paid any attention to the news or tech industry in the last year, then you’ll know that the advent of wearables such as smartwatches and glasses is upon us, and as with tablets and smartphones, it won’t be long before users are demanding web browsing capabilities on devices smaller than we’ve ever seen before.
Of course, wearable technology is still in its infancy and we’re yet to see if it’ll be a fad or if it will really take off. But remember, tablets were written off as a fad back in 2011 and now around 47% of internet users use a tablet for browsing. With this in mind, it’s better to say that wearable devices and other similar technologies are here to stay, and that we better adapt responsive web design techniques to accommodate them.

I’m sure Apple or any other wearable technology manufacturer would’ve loved to have included internet browsing on their devices – but they simply couldn’t due to the fact they had no way of making it work.

Even with the impressive range responsive design offers, it’s not prepared to deliver the World Wide Web on a screen the size of, well, a watch face. And let’s face it, nobody wants to read an article two lines at a time, which is about all you’ll get using the absolutely massive 272px X 340px screen size of the Apple watch and other similar Android watches.
We’ll just have to face the truth that the majority of the internet will not display effectively on a miniature screen. Sure, some internet functions work well on wearable technology. You can still read Tweets easily and use most of your favourite apps without a hitch, but the use is limited.

For example, it’ll be easy enough for you to check train times or read a Tweet with a link, but actually booking that train or reading that link is where we get the problem, and where we will need to innovate to come up with a solution that meets customer demand. Whatever company manages to deliver the full internet to an owner of wearable and other similarly small-screened technology will be the company that dominates the market – you don’t need to be an economics pro to understand that!

Innovation And The Future Of Responsive Web Design

We might not be able to envision right now all the new devices and gadgets the tech industry is going to throw our way in the near future, but we can all probably agree that these devices are coming our way whether we like it or not and that we’ll have to adapt to survive. Each device will provide new challenges to web designers, and as web designers, we’ll have to be prepared to embrace new capabilities and work on improving limitations.

The most successful web designers of the future will be the ones who plan for it now, and the key priority for any responsive web design is user experience, easy navigation, and the ability to access data effortlessly on-demand.

One outcome we’re likely to see from the development of technology like smartwatches, smartbands, and the likes is a revolution in how these devices interact with us as humans. Clicking and scrolling is likely to be replaced with more fluid interactions – such as movements of the arm or hand, eye movements, or voice commands.

Granted, some of these already exist in current technology, such as smart scrolling or ‘eye scrolling’ from Samsung, and voice / audio activated search functionality in the form of inventions like Siri and Cortana. So the next step is utilising this and similar technologies to aid the way we design responsive websites.

In fact, one of the most obvious key developments in delivering content such as articles, reports and emails via a wearable device is to present the data in an audio format. Our eyes might hate us and we might not have too much fun reading a website on a tiny screen, but we probably won’t mind having that data read to us via audio technology.

The great news is there’s already the technology at hand to do just that in the form of screen readers, and as the web is meant to be accessible to anyone, including those who have difficulty reading, the standards for screen readers are already in place and are there for all web designers to take advantage of.

Therefore, perhaps the most short-sighted future of responsive web design when we consider wearable technology and other devices that may not readily support normal web browsing is to ensure your websites are completely accessible to everyone, and function with audio browsing as an option.

What Does The Future Hold?

What the future is for responsive web design holds exactly isn’t fully clear at this moment in time. We don’t know what devices are in the pipeline, and we don’t know how the world will react and attach itself to technology such as wearable smartwatches, glasses, and smartbands.

However, what we do know is that we have to be prepared for whatever the tech world may throw at us. In short, this means not focusing 100% of our energy on responsive designs that solely focus on screen adaptability, and instead focusing on designs that can still function effectively completely independently from a screen. In other words, sites that are designed for use with screen readers too.
Create your websites with that in mind and you’ll be better prepared for whatever the next generation of devices and web browsing might throw at you!

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