Going Mobile, Responsively

Julie King

It’s time.

The rising popularity of mobile devices has shifted the conversation in associations from questioning whether the organization should make its website mobile-accessible to focusing on how long the organization can afford to wait before embracing mobile.

This shift is being driven by the numbers. A Statistics Canada report notes that the use of Internet-enabled mobile phones and tablets rose to 60% in 2013, up 7% from the previous year. In 2010 experts predicted that in 2014 we would see the number of mobile devices exceed the number of traditional desktops and laptops.

As predicted, that transition is now taking place.

When making a decision to go mobile, there are important questions to consider. Will you provide the same information on both mobile and desktop platforms? What technology should you use? How will your organization manage things going forward?

The first thing to consider is your best path: The technology you choose to deploy a mobile site will impact how you manage and upgrade that site going forward.

In working with different technologies, there are three main options available:

Responsive design

Here you have one website and one design, which intelligently reconfigures itself to match the screen settings of the device being used. Boxes of content that are shown horizontally on a desktop screen will restack themselves to display vertically on a phone. Font sizes, images and other elements also scale according to the device.

Responsive designs offer three main advantages:

1)     It’s easier to maintain a single website in one content management system, which is automatic when you choose this option.

2)     Design and content updates won’t get out of synch, because you only have one set of templates and content to maintain.

3)     There is a search optimization advantage. In fact, Google currently recommends developers use responsive designs.

Adaptive design

The idea of an adaptive design is that you adapt your design and content for the mobile environment, creating two or three sets of design templates that may contain the same or completely different content. When someone arrives at the organization’s website, if a mobile device is detected the user will automatically be redirected to the mobile version of the website. This is often a different domain, like m.yourorg.ca.

Adaptive design offers a fast way to get a mobile version of the site running and can also be an advantage if you want to show different content based on the device type.

This approach works well for large websites with a lot of legacy content, especially when there are hundreds of pages built into old-fashioned tables that would have to be updated to work properly in a responsive design framework.

Adaptive design is also a good interim approach for associations that want to make their site more accessible yet are not ready to go through a full responsive redesign process.

If you choose to go ahead with an adaptive design, you can make a totally separate mobile site or dynamically generate a site from your current content management system. I would strongly recommend you avoid building a stand-alone website, because managing two separate sets of content can lead to errors and the two websites falling out of synch with one another, which is not conducive to a good user experience.

Mobile apps

With this approach, you create a stand-alone application designed for a specific mobile device, usually IOS (Apple) or Android.

Mobile apps can be very useful for targeted activities where the program can use functions built into the device, like the camera or GPS chip. However, for your website, many users will not want to have the hassle of downloading an app just to see your webpages, so usually end up using the main website. If this is not optimized for a mobile experience, that could lead to a frustrating user experience.

Conclusion: Responsive design likely your best option

In reviewing the options, your best choice at this time is likely to build a responsive website.

The search engine optimization advantage is an important consideration. Practically speaking, it is much easier to maintain one set of templates, where images are designed to automatically resize themselves and you draw information from a single content management system.

Did you know: In Canada, Samsung and Apple phones are the best-selling smartphone manufactures, accounting for over 50% of phones sold in the past 6 months.[1]

Julie King is the President & CEO of Biz-Zone, a company that helps associations transform their offerings to members with technologies that include an Association Management System (Association DNA) and specialized websites for Associations, including a bilingual Content Management System.


[1] iQmetrix Releases Sales Stats for Most Popular Mobile Phones in North America

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