Responsive Web design is an approach whereby a designer creates a Web page that “responds to” or resizes itself depending on the type of device it is being seen through.  That could be an oversized desktop computer monitor, a laptop, a 10-inch tablet, a 7-inch tablet, or a 4-inch smartphone screen.

Responsive Web design has become one of the hottest trends in 2013.  This is due in part to the  growth of smartphones and other mobile devices. More people are using smaller-screen devices to view Web pages.

What Does Responsive Web Design Look Like?

The purpose of responsive design is to have one site, but with different elements that respond differently when viewed on devices of different sizes.

Let’s take a traditional “fixed” website.  When viewed on a desktop computer, for instance, the website might show  three columns. But when you view that same layout on a smaller tablet, it might force you to scroll horizontally, something users don’t like. Or elements might be hidden from view or look distorted.  The impact is also complicated by the fact that many tablets can be viewed either in portrait orientation, or turned sideways for landscape view.

On a tiny smartphone screen, websites can be even more challenging to see. Large images may “break” the layout. Sites can be slow to load on smartphones if they are graphics heavy.

However, if a site uses responsive design, the tablet version might automatically adjust to display just two columns. That way, the content is readable and easy to navigate. On a smartphone, the content might appear as a single column, perhaps stacked vertically.  Or possibly the  user would have the ability to swipe over to view other columns.  Images will resize instead of distorting the layout or getting cut off.

The point is: with responsive design, the website automatically adjusts based on the device the viewer sees it in.

Why Small Businesses Need to Switch to Responsive Web Design

More people are using mobile devices. A recent Pew study found that 45% of American adults own a smartphone, and 31% own a tablet computer. As we reported yesterday, smartphone shipments outpace those of regular mobile phones, and tablet growth is surging.

Check your traffic and you might just be shocked at how many visitors are getting to your website  through mobile devices.  (In your Google Analytics, select “Audience” on the left side, then “Mobile” to see what proportion of traffic is from mobile devices. You can even drill down to see which devices are sending the traffic.)