When planning out new websites, one of the first things we do is ask for analytics logins. We do this so we can find out what platforms existing visitors use, so we can start to get a gauge of how mobile-centric they are, and whether they use newer browsers or older ones. This information can be invaluable in identifying where to invest valuable budget for the best possible return. During the scoping process, we'll often be asked by our clients about mobile - is it worth it, what are the pitfalls and ramifications of doing it? So this post seeks to answer some of those questions and give some tips on how best to approach the issue.
Should I have a mobile website?
Invariable, the answer is yes. Or at least you should be designing a site that works as well on a phone or tablet as it does on a laptop. That doesn't mean it has to serve the same purpose, or look exactly the same either, but your brand essence should definitely shine through at all times.
What's the difference between a responsive site and a mobile site?
Something we're asked a lot, and something which I feel is still a little too hidden away. Lets try to break this barrier down.
A mobile site is one that is specifically designed for mobiles. You'll likely have seen these - they have addresses like http://m.facebook.com. A responsive site on the other hand doesn't have a different address. It's the same site, and depending on what size your screen is, it changes what it looks like. Try looking at this website on your tablet, or your phone, and then on your laptop. On your phone and tablet, try changing from landscape to portrait and see how the screen changes what shows where - that's responsive; it responds to your device.
Why should I choose one over the other?
The first thing to understand is what you're trying to achieve with your site. If you're a bar or pub and you want more footfall, then you need to tell people where you are. If on the other hand, you're an architect, then it might be that your potential client is looking at your site on their tablet in front of the telly whilst watching Dragons Den of an evening.
That same bar customer looking to find where their friends are won't be doing that when they're trying to book a staff party - they'll be on their laptop.
What I'm saying is that people can use a single website for different purposes, and their reasons for doing so will change depending on where they are and the device they're using. A well designed website will be able to cater to all of these needs without fuss, and so on the question of which is better: responsive website or mobile website? Both. Depending on what you're trying to do.
There are of course plenty of websites out there that have got the wrong end of the stick and have a mobile website for the sake of it, or a responsive one for the same reason. The truth is, there is no one size fits all with good mobile design, and you need to really understand your customers and what they do to be able to serve them in the best possible way.