Back in the 1950s (not that we remember, of course) movie moguls introduced wide-screen ‘CinemaScope’ to lure couch potatoes away from their living rooms and those shiny, new-fangled television sets.
It was a format which offered bolder colour and wider vistas, giving a wraparound quality to the movie experience. You could almost believe you were there amongst the action as cowboys and Indians battled it out in the dustbowls of the American Midwest.
Problem was that when you watched the same movie on a TV screen years later, it was akin to viewing the action from the inside of a pillarbox, with the viewable screen squeezed between two irritating black bars.
As technology improved, of course, TV manufacturers introduced ‘zoom’ ‘just’ and ‘crop’ settings to allow viewers to alter the viewable picture to their own personal taste – even if it often meant sacrificing some of the action on either side of the screen.
Who would have thought that the same problem would later confront the web designers of the early 21st Century?
Of course, things were fine in the days when you were designing for a conventional-sized computer monitor, but all that changed with the smartphone revolution. Suddenly, web pages no longer conformed to the differing screen sizes and resolutions of a mobile or tablet device.
But every problem has a solution, so they say, and the answer in this case was ‘Mobile Responsive Websites.’
2014 is likely to be the year that responsive web design really takes off. But what exactly is it and how does it benefit the consumer?
In essence, they are ‘mobile-friendly’ websites which optimise your viewing experience so that the design adapts to the viewing environment across a wide range of devices, including smart phones and tablets.
This means easy reading with a minimum of resizing, panning and scrolling. It was a key digital trend in 2013 and all the signs are that it will continue to be so as the new year pans out.
Probably the best known responsive design is the BBC News mobile site, although purists may claim that this uses more of an ‘adaptive’ rather than responsive design.
Whatever the truth, responsive design creates a much faster, more engaging and high-quality user experience. Without it, sites not optimised for mobile devices can often display content that is difficult to navigate or too small to read.
Anyone who enjoys shopping on their phones or tablets, will know that most e-commerce sites are almost impossible to use on a small screen. Responsive design sorts this problem at a stroke.
Another key advantage is that a site using responsive design need only be built once. In other words, you don’t need separate mobile, web and tablet versions, so in the long term this will save you money.
So what has prompted this online revolution? It’s simply that as many people now use smartphones and tablets as use traditional computers (according to reliable research) as demand for information on the move has steadily grown.
This means that the need for a single website to display on a number of devices of differing screen dimensions is not just advisable, but absolutely imperative.
So when it’s time for your next web update, ask us about responsive design. In truth, it is still a work in progress, but at least it means that, unlike the CinemaScope scenario, visitors to your site won’t have to see what you do from the inside of a pillarbox.