Responsive web design, an oxymoron for sadists

With the event of HTML5, the charge of responsive website design is one that many people feel unable to resist. But what is responsive website design and for many people why is it so elusive?

Simply put responsive web design is using CSS code to make the best use of the browser being used to view the website.

Ironically most HTML tags start their life as being responsive and it’s just the styling of these tags which can cause websites not to be responsive.

As with all rules there are a couple of expectations, in in the case of HTML In-line frames and some forms element, which by default used a fixed width and therefore need CSS and more advanced coding to become responsive.

So why so many sites on the web are not responsive?

In short it is easier to code a site which is not responsive.  With non-responsive sites they only need to be designed with one view point in mind. As soon as you have to come up with a design which needs to look good on Phone, tablet and desktop, the wheels come off of the normal design process.

In addition, with the need for SEO/ SERPs, people are often left in a spin wondering what they should do next.

So what’s the solution?

If your audience is never going to view your website on a mobile phone or tablet, then it may be that you don’t need to worry about responsive web design, but you should also consider search engines like Google are starting to look at sites which are not responsive as potentially less worthy websites.

Up until recent times, web designers would be able to produce pixel perfect wire-frames and visuals of what your new website would look like. With responsive web design, because we don’t know exactly the width of the device viewing our website, we need to think in terms of fluid width containers which contain content which re-flow to make the best use of the space available. With images we can get them to proportionally reduce, but for most text, as the container gets smaller the text drop gets deeper. In short this can provide problems for layouts where graphics and images need to line up.

On some formats the area is tiny, it’s vital to have the Call to actions as close to the top of the page as possible. We can’t assume any user will scroll down a massive amount to see your message.

Layouts should be kept clean and simple, with phone areas being so small, it’s easy for poorly designed websites not to work well. By removing everything that is not necessary, not only do we have a website optimised for mobile, but we have a website which effectively communicate with the audience and is also quick to load.

Semantic Web is finally embraced in HTML5, it is simply the idea that we can give intelligence and extra meaning to layout. This not only help the designer to construct websites well, but also will begin to allow search engines to better understand your webpages, which may in future help to improve your rank.

What’s the downside?

Often with a disruptive technology there are winners and looser and in the case of HTML5, with elements becoming more uniform, this will mean websites (at least in the short term) will start to look very similar. While for some designers this will cause issues, it will allow web site owners to put the focus on the content, which of course should be the point of any website.

Why WordPress is great for everything except speed

In recent years CMS’s like WordPress have been adopted as the weapon of choice for most new websites. With their limitless options and ease of management it’s easy to think that they are the perfect choice for every situation.

Is this true or like the emperors news clothes are we blind to reasons why a static html website might still represent a great choice for your new online project.

In the beginning

Prior to 2003 if you had a website built, the chances are it was a standard HTML website (also known as a static site) this was usually down to cost and complexity.

In 2003 a little blogging project called WordPress was created, which for the first time made it cheap and simple for people to publish their words online without any real technical ability needed.

As the project grew, it gained the ability to customise what it produced and today it’s become the de facto way to build and deploy any website.

Present vision

With an install base of about a quarter of all websites in the wild built on WordPress, it’s easy to say it’s pretty much taking over the internet. With the reduction in the cost of hosting and the seamless ability for it to plug in functionality and themes on the fly, this has meant that if you can think it, it can be built in WordPress.

From blogs, corporate sites through to ecommerce and directory options, it seems like there is nothing WordPress can’t do, but with this popularities has come a number of issues, not least security.

Although WordPress can be hacked, as long as you keep backups and update whenever possible, life is normally simple for a WordPress user, but this overhead is either an additional cost or in most cases extra jobs the website owner has to do, just to keep still.

Dropping the d bomb

Even if your CMS is up to date with the latest fixes, you can find your server under attack from those who wish to harness the power of you server for illegal purposes. It’s even been suggested foreign governments use this technique as part of cyber-attacks on countries they see as threats.

While in most cases these attacks fail, the fallout from these attacks still have an impact. In simple terms tens of thousands of unwanted connections in a short period of time can bring a server to its knees, if the websites sitting on them use too many resources. Of course you can use CDN and optimise code, but because CMS’s are resource heavy in nature, DDOS attacks on them are normally very effective at causing server load.

It’s a slow world for CMS’s

In addition CMS’s dynamically show website pages which means hosting for CMS websites won’t be as fast and be more expensive than hosting required for static websites.

You can use services like CloudFlare and use caching Plugins, but a static websites will always be faster and require less hosting resource.

Where Static websites make sense

Such is the issue with CMS resource usage that a new breed of CMS have been invented that do not rely on databases and static pages are generated as part of the publishing procedure.

These hybrid systems are a good compromise but also have the weakness of still not being as fast as pure static website pages and do not allow for the creation of more complex types of website.

Generally a good rule of thumb for Static websites is that are either very small (half a dozen pages) or if they are larger, additional pages wont impact on global navigation.

The navigation issue

With a CMS when you add a new page, the navigation will update across all pages no matter how many pages your site has, this is one of the most powerful features that most users hook into.

With a static site, if you make a change to a global element, this needs to be manually changed on all pages. So for the majority of larger sites a static website simply makes no sense.

Finally thoughts from a professional

Static websites can run a lot faster and can look far more unique than most CMS based sites, but it’s important to weight up the overhead there will be when adding new content or changing the style of an existing site.

But if you can be disciplined and mindful about the structure and format of your new site, there is no reason why you have to choose a CMS.

For many small businesses, in reality they won’t change the content of their website, or will only look at it a couple times a year, for those people, a static website makes real sense. After all if it’s cheaper, faster and more secure, what’s not to like.