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Nicky Bleiel wants to see Information Everywhere: Flexible Content with Responsive Design / by Catherine “KT” Wolfman

If you’ve been a technical communicator for any amount of time, maintaining consistent web content that displays seamlessly across all your users’ platforms is high on your list of goals. During a NY Metro STC meeting in May, Nicky Bleiel showed us that responsive design gives you that advantage. 

What is it?

Responsive design is a way to use CSS rules to determine the device viewing your content and adjust the layout automatically. A major advantage is that no content is lost, it just shifts. It eliminates the need for the CSS to call different pages depending on the device or maintaining one site for “web” and another for “mobile”. Mobile users want all the access to information they would have if they were on a PC. Responsive web design lets your user access the same information no matter what device they use and you do the work only once.

It’s About Time!

One of the things the attendees were most impressed with were the global statistics Ms. Bleiel presented about the growth of mobile devices. Mobile phones account for more than 17% of global web use and 2013 was the first year mobile devices outsold PCs. Ninety percent of users make use of one platform to access information and then another to complete the task (look up car rental rates on a phone and then use a PC to make the actual purchase). Sixty-six percent use more than one device at the same time (book a flight on your laptop then access your boarding pass from your cell phone); or, for two completely different activities simultaneously (work and watch the World Cup at the same time). Finally, if you’re looking to improve your Search Engine Optimization (SEO), responsive web design is Google’s preferred configuration.

Am I Responsive?

Some items that are universal to most communication are included on Ms. Bleiel’s best practices list for responsive web design:

  • Think small: Whatever works on the small screen generally works on a larger screen.
  • Write well: Nothing replaces good writing. 
  • Layer information: A logical progression of information allows users to choose their own adventure for themselves. 

After reviewing many sample sites, Ms. Bleiel showed us another site, http://ami.responsivedesign.is/. Simply type a URL in the search bar on the site, like http://microsoft.com, and the site illustrates how that one page displays on multiple platforms. Then you can decide if a site is truly responsive.