Responsive design for the digital generation

(Image Source: NBC news)

  • 65% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 use mobile devices to access the internet (Pew Internet report, 2010)
  • A staggering 24% of students would drop a potential college after a bad experience using their website. (Noel Levitz, E-Expectations report, 2013)

Consider for a moment how the below photos taken in St Peter’s Square in Vatican City during the 2005 announcement of Pope Benedict XVI and the 2013 announcement of Pope Francis relate to the statistics above. Looking at the juxtaposition between the two photos it is at once obvious that there has been a dramatic shift in the how we view and interact with the world around us.

The above two photos haven’t been photoshopped or altered in any way but rather reflect how the way we use technology has become instant, interactive and mobile. As cultural consumers, we are no longer content to be passive spectators; we now want to be active participants. We want to be able to take a photo or a video of an event we are witnessing and instantly share it with friends and family. We also want to have constant access to information even when we’re on the move. In fact, the term ‘instant’ which was once considered the work of science fiction has now very much become the everyday ‘norm’.  The way in which universities and colleges present information must change in order to accommodate how students access information.

Armed with this information, it’s impossible to fathom why every university and college isn’t taking advantage of responsive design.

In order to ensure visitors to your site get the best possible experience a website with responsive design is a must. However, having a responsive website is more than simply implementing the necessary code; you also need to consider the following:

  • Ensure that images are appropriately sized and download based on screen capacity
  • Remove any large header images that will increase the length of time it takes to download the page
  • Put videos as links as opposed to embedding them as content
  • Remove any excess content so users don’t have to scroll down too much on a mobile page.

Responsive design isn’t an optional, additional design feature, that’s nice to have but not an absolute necessity. What responsive design really means to your institution is the difference between a positive and negative user experience which could well be the deciding factor between a student applying to your university and that student moving onto the next university on their list.