Five Questions With: Jeremy Girard and Jeremy Spurr

Envision Technology Advisors team talks about the redesign to United Way of Rhode Island’s 2-1-1 website. More

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Five Questions With: Jeremy Girard and Jeremy Spurr

COURTESY ENVISION
"TRAFFIC TO websites is increasingly coming from sources other than traditional desktop computers – including smartphones, tablets, etc. The experience of viewing a website on a phone’s small screen is much different than viewing it on a large, desktop monitors," said Jeremy Girard, director of Web Development for Envision Technology Advisors.
Posted 12/14/11

Jeremy Girard, director of Web development for Envision Technology Advisors, discusses his decision to use “responsive Web design” to redesign the United Way of Rhode Island’s 2-1-1 website (211ri.org).

The approach, using HTML5 and CSS3, reads the user’s screen size and adjusts the website layout accordingly, eliminating the need for separate desktop/mobile/tablet versions.

Girard and Jeremy Spurr, Envision’s lead developer on this project, took a few minutes to speak with Providence Business News about it.

PBN: Why did you choose to implement a responsive design approach in the United Way’s 2-1-1 website?

GIRARD: Traffic to websites is increasingly coming from sources other than traditional desktop computers – including smartphones, tablets, etc. The experience of viewing a website on a phone’s small screen is much different than viewing it on a large, desktop monitor, so having a site that can intelligently change its layout and presentation, based on the screen being used to view it, is becoming important to a site’s success.

In terms of the 2-1-1 project, visitors to that website are looking for access to human services in Rhode Island and they are often in a moment of crisis. They may not have access to a desktop computer and they are often using their cell phone to get the information and help they need. Having a website that gives them that help as quickly and easily as possible, in a format optimized for the device they are using at that time, will create a better user experience. At the end of the day, this is really about giving people better access to information.

PBN: In five years, do you think most websites will use the responsive design approach?

SPURR: Web browsers in devices like phones are now outselling those in normal desktop computers. Looking at statistics for the websites we host or manage, we are seeing a consistent increase in traffic to those sites from phones and tablets. These trends show that websites will need to accommodate different devices and screen sizes in order to remain relevant and useful.

If you have ever visited a site from phone and gotten a layout you that had to zoom in on just to read the text, you know how poor an experience it is. That approach is not going to work as users demand a better experience in the sites they visit. If you want users to stay and use your site, or come back again, you will need to ensure that their experience on the site is an enjoyable one, regardless of the device they are using to access it at that time.

Look at your site and ask yourself what you are doing to accommodate users on different devices. If the answer is that you aren’t doing anything, you need to reconsider that approach.

PBN: You’ve chosen to do responsive design for some recent projects but not others, like KLR’s new website. What factors make up that decision?

GIRARD: Responsive Web design is not a magic cure for every project. Just like any solution, it has its place and its limitations. In cases where only a small subset of a site’s content is relevant for users on handheld devices, a separate mobile site may be the right solution. This was the case for the KLR site (kahnlitwin.com).

With any project, we first look at the needs of the site and its users and decide on which solution will best meet those needs.

PBN: You mentioned that incorporating responsive design is like building an energy-efficient house. Can you explain that?

GIRARD: If you are building a new home and you know that energy efficiency is an important part of the project, you will make certain decisions based on that requirement. If you try to retrofit an existing home for energy efficiency, you will be able to make improvements, but you are limited by the existing structure. If you build something from the ground up with a requirement in mind, it gives you more control over how you will meet those requirements.

A responsive approach to Web design is similar in that it is not something you typically “add on” after the fact. Since it is a new way of thinking about your site, and how it will respond to different users using different devices and screen sizes, it is most effectively implemented at the earliest stages of a project – as part of its core requirements for success.

PBN: If a budget were tight on a redesign – would you go with a responsive design or a mobile website – if we’re thinking long-term savings?

SPURR: If you are thinking long-term, a responsive approach is the way to go because it meets the challenges of today’s devices and tomorrow’s. It doesn’t limit itself to only today’s phones or tablets – it responds to any screen size, including those we don’t even know about yet.

A responsive approach will also save you time in the long-term because you only have one website to maintain, as opposed to separate sites for desktop, mobile, tablet, etc. The more sites you have to manage, the harder it is to keep them all up-to-date and consistent. Having a single, responsive website will significantly reduce the time you must invest to maintain and manage the sites over the long-term.

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