Modern websites and applications must work well for both end users and developers; they need to keep users happily engaged on their preferred device while maintaining the sanity of developers working behind the scenes. Responsive Design is an approach to web development that caters to both groups. The idea is to present the same content regardless of the device type, but the layout "responds" to the device "asking" for the content. In the business intelligence world, it means a master app can be designed one time, then slightly reconfigured for each device with very little effort – no copy and no separate app. Users get an optimized experience that keeps them coming back.*
Responsive Design is gaining traction with many organizations today due to the rapidly growing number of people who depend on mobile devices for access to business information. Mobile users cite benefits like increased efficiency and productivity, improved communication, and streamlined business processes, and 85% of IT managers agree that mobile devices make their company more efficient. Getting on the Responsive Design bandwagon is the way to ensure that your business apps meet your employees' needs while maximizing the use of your IT team's time.
Whether you decide to responsively design your website or your business applications – and in many cases, internal business applications are websites, including web-based mobile BI apps for business intelligence dashboards and reports – here are some of the benefits of a Responsive Design approach for users and developers:
Benefits for users
1) Seamless user experience.
This is a phrase that seems like meaningless jargon, but let me explain. A seamless user experience is one where the user is unaware of the technical details behind the scenes that are enabling the positive experience they're having with an application or website. With smartphones and tablets manufactured in all shapes and sizes, it's important to offer a user-friendly experience on every device. It makes the difference between whether users adopt your website/app or not.
Users who access a sales dashboard application on their PC, tablet and smartphone expect a similar experience on all devices. If you designed this application in arcplan, you'd have "views" for each device, where you can increase and decrease the size of charts, tables, headings, and data labels depending on the screen size, and can collapse navigation elements for smaller devices. Regardless of the device used, the same level of interaction should be available and users should be able to find the data they need quickly and easily to support their decision-making processes. This is the essence of a seamless user experience.
2) Frustration-free decision support.
A tell-tale sign that an application or website was not designed responsively is redirection to a mobile site (the dreaded m.site.com). Mobile sites are often super-streamlined versions that eliminate portions of the full site and can be incredibly frustrating for users who are expecting to see the same content. Developing a responsively designed website or app simply means resizing and rearranging the elements of a site so it fits properly on smaller devices. End users can easily access information without being asked if they would like to go to the mobile site or the full site, which begs the questions, "what’s the difference?" and "what will I miss if I choose the mobile site?"
When it comes to business applications, certain users may never even touch a laptop or PC unless absolutely necessary, preferring to use a tablet or phone to check KPIs or provide commentary on reports. Responsively designed apps make sure this is not only possible but easy.
In addition, Google recommends that websites avoid redirects to separate mobile sites and instead employ Responsive Design. The search engine may penalize sites that don't follow its mobile best practices. However, if your site is an internal-only web app used for business purposes, this isn't a concern.
Benefits for developers
1) Time and money savings on development and maintenance.
One could argue that time-strapped web and application developers benefit most from Responsive Design. A single set of source code means that changes made in the master app will be updated on every device without the need for additional coding. Maintenance is also much more manageable for the same reason: there's only one location for updating content or resolving site issues.
Additionally, responsively designed apps can equal lower overhead costs. There's no need to hire a separate individual or team to oversee a mobile website because the development and maintenance for desktop and mobile fall under the same umbrella.
2) Longer shelf life for apps.
Mobile phone manufacturers regularly release new devices with slightly different dimensions than what's currently on the market to keep pace with user demands. A comparison of smartphones shows that users can choose between dozens of phones with varying dimensions. For app developers, this is a real concern unless they've employed Responsive Design. An application built in January can accommodate the newest devices on the market the following January. With Responsive Design, applications won't go extinct and developers aren't forced to rebuild them to fit new screen sizes since they can quickly be adapted to the new devices. And a longer shelf life should equal a stronger return on monetary investments made in developing the application.
Responsively designed applications and websites provide significant benefits for end users and developers alike. The goal is to deliver intuitive, interactive experiences regardless of how users access the information. At the same time, Responsive Design enables developers to work smarter, not harder, and instill longevity into their apps. Leveraging a responsive approach to application and web development positions companies to consistently put their best (inter)face forward.
* The reason I refer to "websites or applications" is because in arcplan, mobile BI applications are web apps. This means that they are accessed through a browser – like a website but unlike native apps which are built for each operating system specifically. The debate over whether native apps or web apps are the future of mobile BI still rages, but proponents of Responsive Design favor web apps. While native apps take advantage of the native gestures of a particular device, web apps from a vendor like arcplan are device-independent and can be rolled out on multiple platforms with little effort using Responsive Design.