Have you ever pulled up a website on your phone and been frustrated by the tiny text and tabs? Unless I’m desperate to do something there, I usually give up. In either case, I’m frustrated by the awful user experience. Don’t they care about their customers?
When’s the last time you looked at your association website on a mobile phone? Hopefully, it was a good experience because, according to technology research firm Gartner, by 2013 more people will access websites with mobile phones than with desktop computers.
You’ll see evidence of this trend if you look at your website’s analytics and note the different browsers, operating systems, and screen resolutions used by visitors. Bear in mind, if your website isn’t mobile-friendly, the numbers may reflect the cold reality that your mobile users have tried and given up on your site.
Members increasingly want your association in their pocket. When they’re not at a desktop computer, they want to find and read what they need, look up other members’ contact info, register for events, attend webinars, and participate in online community discussions.
If your website is difficult to navigate on mobile phones, if images or pages don’t load, or if users have to scroll or zoom excessively to view content, you have a big problem. It looks like you don’t care.
You could develop a mobile site or app, but that means maintaining separate versions for each platform — iPad, iOS iPhone, Android, Blackberry – a costly and timely proposition. Or, you can choose one platform, ignoring the rest of your audience.
The best apps only include the most necessary and desired features of a traditional website. People love well-designed apps tailored to their mobile needs and device.
But, consider this if you choose an app instead of a mobile site: will prospective website visitors download the app? Apps will likely be used by members and conference attendees, but what about prospects, policy-makers, press, and other audiences? They’ll most likely go to a website, not download an app, unless they’re at your conference.
There’s another option: a responsive design website.
Basics of responsive design
A responsive design website is a flexible website designed to recognize and adapt to fit any device displaying it. In its flexible grid-based layout, images and media resize automatically to conform to the enclosing container. Take a peek at these examples of responsive design websites.
“Responsive design eliminates the need to manage different versions of your site and ensures a consistent user experience across multiple devices, says Ray van Hilst, Director of Client Strategy at Vanguard Technology, a website redesign and online technology service provider for associations. “Pages ‘respond’ individually to the browser resolution and content is repositioned based on defined criteria. With a CMS that is built for responsive design, like Sitefinity, this becomes even easier as the ‘response’ can be managed by a non-technical content manager once the underlying infrastructure is in place.”
Ray says that responsive design makes your website more than just mobile- or tablet-friendly, it makes it future-friendly. “Responsive design gives you a framework to make sure your website will work on all the devices yet to come on the market, from the iPad mini to televisions to new tablet designs. By planning for the ever changing user experience, you ensure that your members will be able to access your content on their terms and their technology, not yours.”
Getting more responsive
Before hiring someone to redesign your site, first, learn what mobile visitors want from your site. What do (or would) they access? What do they want to do? Website analytics, surveys, and usability testing provide data to help you with these decisions.
If you can’t afford a website redesign, at least rethink your content and navigation. Think mobile first: many association websites are a cluttered mess and could use the serious editing required for mobile usability. Consider your target audiences and their needs, not what every department head wants.
Ask your website designer, CMS vendor, and/or technology consultant for their insight on responsive design and the steps you can take to make your website mobile user-friendly.
To learn more, check out these resources:
- Russ Wheatley’s Responsive Web Design presentation is a good illustration and explanation of the basics.
- A Primer on Responsive Design by UX Magazine gives tips that go beyond the technical to the strategic.
- Hey Dummy, This is What Responsive Design Means by Fast Company will prepare you for that conversation with your boss.
Deirdre Reid, CAE is a freelance writer who finds the whole world of web design a little bit magical.
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