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The recent announcement of Microsoft's corporate website redesign has sparked conversation in the web development world, mostly around the subject of responsive design.  For business owners, the conversation is an important one.  The rise of the mobile web has changed how customers interact with businesses online, and websites that aren't prepared to respond to this shift will miss out on critical opportunities to engage with visitors.

What is Responsive Design?

Without getting too technical, a responsive website is built in such a way that the layout or structure of the site changes depending on the size of the viewer's screen.  Visitors who view the site on large desktop monitors will see the site one way, while visitors who view the site on small mobile phone screens will see it another way.

This is important because mobile web browsing has brought some very small screens into play over the past few years.  The difference in size between the average computer screen and the average mobile phone screen is significant enough that a website designed to fit one likely won't fit the other.  On larger screens, websites can feature large quantities of text, with detailed navigation menus, dropdowns, multiple distinct text columns, and a variety of images.  But try cramming all of that onto a mobile phone screen.  The text won't be readable, the navigation buttons will be too small to see or push, and the columns will be too narrow.  Responsive design is the solution to this dilemma.

Responsive Design in Action

Responsive websites adapt to fit varying screen sizes.  You can see this in action by visiting a responsive website such as this one and manually resizing the window of your web browser.  Click and drag the corner of your web browser to make it smaller or larger, and watch how the appearance of the website changes.  If you're viewing this on a standard computer monitor, you'll notice that the structure of the website adjusts once you shrink the browser window down to “tablet size,” which is usually about a third the width of a computer screen, and adjusts still further as you make the window smaller and smaller.

Why It's Important

As you can tell from the example above, responsive design is extremely important.  It may be one of the most important aspects of your website.  We're not just saying that because we build websites.  According to StatCounter, 10.5% of all web traffic now comes from mobile devices.  That's a huge number, considering just a few years ago phones were used for making phone calls.  The mobile web is growing very, very fast.  ComScore reports that almost 50% of mobile subscribers use their phones to access the internet, and in this article, Morgan Stanley predicts mobile web browsing will eclipse desktop web browsing by the year 2015.

If you want to make your website accessible to the greatest number of possible visitors, it needs to fit all screen sizes.  Responsive design is the most efficient and effective way to accomplish this.

View examples of responsive web design by Blazonco.